Lawmaker wants to restrict access to birth certificate data

Published 9:04 am Monday, April 20, 2015

ST. PAUL — A Minnesota lawmaker wants to restrict public access to parental contact information listed on birth certificates, citing privacy concerns.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said she wants to prevent companies from collecting the email addresses, home addresses and phone numbers that parents list on birth certificates.

Sheran said she is concerned about privacy. “We’re starting to pay much more attention to data collection and how data is used,” she said.

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Sheran attached the measure to a broader bill that covers vital statistics. Her amendment would allow researchers, news media and others to continue to access the information on birth certificates.

Supporters say the measure is aimed at protecting parents from being bombarded with mailings after a child is born. But opponents say the measure would put the lid on information that’s been considered public for more than a century.

The effort comes just a month after a group started notifying parents about their ability to opt out of a program run by the Minnesota Department of Health that collects and stores blood samples from newborns. The program tests for 55 rare conditions that could be harmful or fatal if not treated.

“My guess is it isn’t a coincidence. It has to do with our program to notify parents of what’s happening to their babies,” said Twila Brase, executive director of an organization called The Citizen’s Council on Health Freedom.

Brase contends the newborn screening program is invasive because the state can keep the information it collects and could use it for purposes other than screening.

She said she started collecting parental information from birth certificates and notifying parents who delivered children after Aug. 1, 2014, the date the Legislature authorized the Health Department to start collecting the data if parents don’t opt out.

The Health Department was forced to destroy 1.1 million newborn screening cards in January 2014 after losing a court fight to preserve the data. Brase, a longtime advocate of health care privacy, said she’s dismayed that lawmakers support an effort to conceal contact information on birth certificates.

“We consider the violation of a child’s genetic privacy a greater violation than perhaps any other violation of privacy taking place today in this state,” she said.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she doesn’t support any changes to the birth certificate.

“I think it’s wrong-headed,” Scott said. “It’s been public record since practically statehood.”

A spokesman for the state Health Department said the department is neutral on the bill.