January 13th, 2009
Rest in Secrecy: SPJ opposes hidden cemetary records in Nebraska
By David Cuillier
This week SPJ joined an amicus brief in a case where the government wants to keep secret the identities of those long buried in a cemetery at a mental health hospital in Nebraska. A state-owned mental hospital doesn’t want a historical society to have access to people buried on the grounds from 1909 to 1959, claiming they can’t release the records because it would reveal they had mental disorders and violate HIPAA (federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
This is a great example of where these well-intentioned laws are stretched beyond their limits to hide information in the name of privacy. First, the people have been dead for at least 50 years, so their privacy interests have long passed. Second, it’s important for people to know the names of people who have died in the custody of our government so we can make sure the system is working. Journalists with access to this kind of information have found awful abuses at mental health hospitals. If this information is kept secret than the government will be able to hide all sorts of abuses, all in the name of protecting privacy. The case will be heard by the Nebraska Supreme Court. See the SPJ press release.