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State officials can’t obscure fact that their bid would hinder access to public records

In her Feb. 12 letter to the editor (“With digital data, state must consider how to protect people’s personal information”), Dr. Monica Bharel, the state’s commissioner of public health, wrote, “Missing in the Globe’s editorial was that the state’s Public Health Council will develop regulations that specify the levels of access to vital records for the general public, including genealogists, historians, and journalists. These regulations will undergo a robust public process prior to implementation.”

That all sounds great until you realize that the regulations cannot undo the law. If the law says no one can access a marriage record for 90 years, regulations cannot legally say anything else.


As for the promise of a “robust public process prior to implementation,” actually, that is what we do in testimony at legislative hearings involving upcoming legislation. We have a public process, a robust discussion that includes all the stakeholders, before the Legislature determines whether a bill ever becomes law.

I want to make sure that Globe readers are not misled by Bharel’s generous statement of inclusion. The law determines the boundaries of access. Regulations are written later, and they cannot change the law.

Barbara Mathews


Massachusetts Genealogical Council