Sweetheart Ancestry.com Deal Alleged in NY

(CN) – Contrasting the dust on its records demands against the access given to Ancestry.com, an open-government group has asked a judge to put sunlight on the website’s correspondence with public officials in New York.

Filed on June 21, the petition in Albany Supreme Court comes from the nonprofit Reclaim the Records and its founder, Brooke Schreier Ganz. Only the New York State Department of Health is named as a respondent, but neither that agency nor Ancestry.com agreed to comment.

Represented by Albany attorney Lewis Oliver Jr., Ganz says she submitted a request to the DOH in January 2016 for copies of the New York state death index between Dec. 31, 1956, and June 1880, or the earliest date available.

While Ganz waited until May 2017 for New York’s response under the Freedom of Information Law, she says the same agency produced “digitized records of the New York State Death Index to Ancestry.com in under three months.”

On the same day Ganz received her first FOIL response, she says Ancestry.com received final responses from the same agency despite having filed its request for the same records just three months earlier.

Ganz says she the filed another records request in October 2017 for the state’s communcations with ancestry.com.

The records could “explain what had transpired, and why DOH had responded differently to her FOIL request than it had to Ancestry.com’s request for the identical materials,” Ganz’s petition states.

Ganz says she received some responsive materials on Jan. 23, 2018, but that the records fail to describe the searches that the state performed. New York still has not replied to an appeal Ganz filed.

”There is good reason to believe that additional records and documents containing communications between DOH and Ancestry.com about Ancestry’s request for the Death Index exist than what have been produced,” the complaint states.

Ganz notes that her first request for the death index resulted in a notice from the state that production would cost $152,000. Ganz says her appeal seeking an explanation of the costs was denied in its entirety.

By the time the state produced its first FOIL response to Ganz a year ago, she notes that she had already filed a second request on Oct. 14, 2016.

Among other concerns, Ganz calls it possible that the delay stems from involvement by Ancestry.com in the copying of microfiche into digitized records.

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