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Misuse of Birthdate Information in MLS Reports
Posted: Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:43 pm
For what it is worth...I was looking through this forum to make a comment about MLS and its reports and this seems as good a spot as any. I want to comment on the issue of privacy. Birthdates are private and personal information, as evidenced by the policies and such mentioned previously in this thread, by the fact that all government websites were ordered to remove that data from their displays, and even the Red Cross has removed the person's birthdate from the Red Cross Donor Card. A birthdate is personal and should not be given to people who do not have a need for it.
Unfortunately, MLS splatters this information on all sorts of reports that don't require it. Tell me, why does the Primary need to know the birthdates of the adults working in the Primary? Why do the Relief Society, the Elders Quorum, or the High Priests need to know people's birthdates? If your answer is "to wish them a happy birthdate"...that's a lousy reason for violating their privacy. Not everybody wants this information shared...and since it is their private information, it should be handled with more care.
I see birthdates on home teaching assignment reports (the ones handed out to the home teachers)...and it is totally unjustified. I have seen ward leaders pass out to members lists generated from MLS that had people's birthdays included on them. They weren't passing them out for the birthdays...they were passing them out for some other reason, and because MLS puts the birthday on so many reports that have no reason to have it, it gets passed out and made public when it should not be. Is that the fault of MLS? In part...yes! I agree the leader needs to be educated on what to pass out and what not to, but you put the birthday in so many places you make it too easy for leaders to give that information out without thinking about it.
As a financial clerk for many years, and as a computer professional for 30 years, I really think you need to take a very close look at when and where you make member birthdates available to ward members and leaders...because right now, I don't see the need for it on most of the reports I see it printed on.
Just my thoughts...but I hope you will give it some thought. The MLS system, by printing it in so many places where it just doesn't seem to belong, is making matters worse.
Posted: Sun Aug 05, 2012 11:12 pm
This thread was moved from the Birthday Calendar
thread in the Help with LDSTech
forum. The topic in that thread deals with creating a birthday calendar on a ward website from information contained in MLS. The topic of this thread, while related, is different. Note the Code of Conduct states:
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Posted: Sun Aug 05, 2012 11:13 pm
pleelds wrote:Birthdates are private and personal information, as evidenced by the policies and such mentioned previously in this thread, by the fact that all government websites were ordered to remove that data from their displays, and even the Red Cross has removed the person's birthdate from the Red Cross Donor Card.
What country are you in?
Posted: Mon Aug 06, 2012 7:27 am
I agree with you in general, I am concerned with how much data we share in our callings. We have a culture of acceptance around much of these issues, and people who insist on their data being kept from public consumption find opposition ("that person is a tin-foil conspiracy theorist") and as clerks we do have a harder time with accommodating their requests in MLS. I believe that from the Top of the Church organization this is a concern being addressed.
When you look at the history of the online Directory, for an Example, the names of minor children were accessible to anyone in the stake. A decision was made to pull access about the minors of individuals outside a local unit. That is a huge privacy improvement. Additionally, the online tool also allows a family and individuals to decide who gets to have access to their data and even individual access (email/phone) can be viewed by Leaders only, or by the unit, etc... In the US this is an Opt-out program (following US law) and in many other places of the world it is an Opt-In program following their privacy laws.
I believe the church is being aggressive in its response to a previous lower concern about privacy issues. I also believe they are targeting the solutions that are the most often accessed or trusted sources of information for the general membership of the Church. The directory is online and synchs with smart-phones. They are targeting that to maximize the reach to the consumers of the information.
The Church also published new privacy training to Leaders in the church, available at https://leader.lds.org
and is another proof to me that this is being taken seriously at the Top.
That said, MLS still has many problems. Many of the forms, as I recall, actually have the ability to mask the birth year of an individual, and custom forms could always be created. MLS is with us and will be for some time to come. We do not know the intentions of privacy as it relates to MLS, this information is not shared with us, but I believe that we'll be in this situation until all of its functions are moved to the online tools. Until then, we as guardians of that data, need to educate and potentially influence the change in cultural expectations.
Our organizations are built using birth dates, classes, advance through the programs, interviews for the youth, etc... It will be difficult to eliminate the need to see the data completly, and one might argue that even knowing the birthdate (without the year) is dangerous, because the year is easily deduced - in these cases we must rely on confidentiality and training our leaders to be protective of that data.
Posted: Mon Aug 06, 2012 8:14 am
One effective tool against the over-sharing of birthdates on reports from MLS
is the black marker. I am fortunate that my ward leaders spend that extra
minute or two to mask unneeded data from distributed forms. Sure, it is a
bit ugly, and reads like as report from the government about UFOs, but at
least this simple fix prevents leaks of private data.
Posted: Mon Aug 06, 2012 8:59 am
@Moderator: Sorry about the thread selection...I'll be more careful next time.
@JohnShaw: Thank you for your comments. I agree that the Church is being proactive (I don't know if I can classify it as "aggressive" yet...but I have seen some significant changes such as the privacy controls on the web site like you pointed out) in this area and I think that is a very good thing. MLS seems to be lagging behind in this area. I can tell it is a complex piece of software, integrated with other systems, and so I am not surprised as such. I am unable to access the leadership site as my "reign of terror" as financial clerk has ended (actually, I don't know if I could access that site as a financial clerk either), but I am glad to hear that the Church has put together privacy training.
I posted this note because it has been an ongoing frustration with the system and yet again this week I encountered two leaders who were giving out information with people's birthdays on it to people who absolutely have no need for it. Yet again, the reason was that MLS included it as a matter of course on documents that it did not need to be on. I mean, there is NO reason to have this information on a phone list of the ward. That was just downright silly.
I agree that in the short term, education and reliance on leader actions is the only avenue, and in fact I am meeting with our Bishop to discuss this with him. No, I don't expect it to change (in MLS) any time soon (I was not aware they were trying to move the system to a totally on-online system), but did want to at least make my feelings known.
atticusewig points out that a black-marker is a good deterrent. I agree...and it is about the only tool we have at the moment...unless you want to try to make a whole bunch of custom reports without the information. The problem is, it relies on the human factor...and humans are notoriously inept when it comes to such things. All it takes is one unguarded late-night moment on the part of a leader and suddenly everyone in the ward has this information.
And yes, I am quite frustrated with ward leaders labeling me as "paranoid" when I bring this issue up. Only a few, of course...but at least one Bishop. That was several years ago. With the Church putting out training specific to this topic (I was not aware of that), perhaps it will get more traction.
Thank you to all who added your thoughts and comments. I appreciate it.
Posted: Mon Aug 06, 2012 1:15 pm
pleelds wrote:@JohnShaw: Thank you for your comments. I agree that the Church is being proactive (I don't know if I can classify it as "aggressive"
I used the term aggressive on purpose and in it's proper context I think. I have not had personal experience seeing the church move very fast, and relative to my historical view, this is pretty aggressive
pleelds wrote:I agree that in the short term, education and reliance on leader actions is the only avenue, and in fact I am meeting with our Bishop to discuss this with him. No, I don't expect it to change (in MLS) any time soon (I was not aware they were trying to move the system to a totally on-online system), but did want to at least make my feelings known.
This is fantastic, and a great example of sustaining our leaders. When I see an issue I think is important and is none of my business (from a stewardship standpoint) I make it a point of speaking with them privately and voicing my concern/opinion --> allowing them to then make any changes they feel to make. This is sustaining our leaders, those who sit quietly by, I think, often miss good growth opportunities for themselves or others.
MLS is going to be an issue that we must 'live with' for now. The time/effort/money of remediation vs moving to the new system will limit, I think, the Church's revamp of a deprecated solution. I may be wrong, there are plenty of places world-wide that may need to have something locally, so MLS may see some improvements or enhancements time will tell.
Posted: Mon Aug 06, 2012 1:35 pm
JohnShaw wrote:When I see an issue I think is important and is none of my business (from a stewardship standpoint) I make it a point of speaking with them privately and voicing my concern/opinion --> allowing them to then make any changes they feel to make. This is sustaining our leaders, those who sit quietly by, I think, often miss good growth opportunities for themselves or others.
It's not murmuring if you're giving feedback to the people in charge. That's the way I see it.
Posted: Fri Aug 10, 2012 2:06 pm
I believe the privacy concerns are on the "radar" for our Church leaders and the IT folks. I don't remember all of the details for all reports, but it seems like, in general, the clerk has to either specifically choose to add private data (add the year to birth month and day), or has the ability to exclude private data. Mostly this applies to adults; we should probably be paying attention to the youth as well. Part of the problem arises from the need (in some cases) to distinguish between adults and children. For example, parent and child with the same names; or a really fun one, an infant who is head of household (child of record living with a non-member custodial parent). That led to some uncomfortable moments for one of the counselors.
So, to some extent, the onus falls to the clerk. If he is a bit lazy, or doesn't see the issue, birthdays are going to be printed and distributed. It will then be up to the ward/stake leadership to train. Same goes for organizations - we need to raise awareness and show them how privacy can be protected.
I do appreciate the topic. I will use this as a training opportunity for my assistant clerks and organization heads.
Posted: Fri Aug 10, 2012 3:24 pm
idjeeper2 wrote:So, to some extent, the onus falls to the clerk.
I'd say that depends on who is printing the reports. Some wards allow the auxiliaries to do the HT/VT entry and run off their own reports.
I think it falls to the Stake/Bishop to train and the Bishop to enforce what is and is not acceptable practices.