Adoptee Privacy

When it comes to the question of opening adoption records, the biggest concern of politicians, agencies. and courts is usually “the privacy of the birth mother.” Note that this isn’t necessarily the concern of the birth moms themselves. Most birth moms welcome contact with their offspring, but it makes a nice excuse for keeping quasi-legal adoption practices quiet.

I’d like to know why nobody cares about the privacy of the adoptee.

From the Misplaced Baggage blog (emphasis added):

During my interview with John Safran, he brought up the subject of privacy rights vs. birth searches. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to convey the thoughts I’d expressed in an earlier conversation with a fellow adoptee. Some people seem to focus on the privacy of parents over the need for an adoptee to know, but there’s more to it than that. Many adoptees have to give up their privacy in order to even begin a search. Many of us have to trust complete strangers with information of which we’re usually very protective. We become ripe for exploitation. Then there’s that devastating disappointment when nothing is found.

This is an excellent point that has been all but completely ignored in most discussions of adoption records. The only way for adoptees to gain information is to offer, publicly and at great cost, what little information they have about themselves. As a computer whiz it makes me wonder about identity theft and data mining and all the nasty things that can happen when information gets inside a computer, or otherwise into the wrong hands.

When computer identity theft became an issue, states began enacting laws to protect people by forcing companies to disclose data security breaches (stolen laptops, missing backup tapes, hacker infiltration). But if you are a searcher, you have no such protection. You have no way to know if a third party may have disclosed your information without your consent.

Because it happened to me. During the course of anonymous correspondence with my birth mother through the Illinois Confidential Intermediary program–the only official state-sanctioned way of obtaining information–my identifying information (name, address, phone, email) was “accidentally” left on documents sent to my birth mother. In Illinois, the law has provisions and punishments if a birth mother’s information is released in the course of the CI process, BUT NOT THE ADOPTEE. I don’t even have concrete proof that this happened (since, over a year later, the CI program still has not provided me with “official” notification).

How’s that for turning the tables? In making sure my birth mother’s identity was concealed from me, mine was exposed to her. Now I can be the one looking over my shoulder, wondering if I’m being watched.

Why does the law provide redress for giving out an adoptive family’s or birth relative’s information without consent, but not an adoptee’s?

Adoptees get to expose our private selves to public scrutiny, all for the barest hope of information that may or may not even be correct, much less available or affordable. And if our identities are stolen in the meantime… well, adoptee identities are so fluid anyway, who cares? We are non-people and historically, once you’re classed as a non-person, you don’t count.

This is not to dis birth moms and other relatives, who have at least as hard a time trying to gain information as we adoptees do. But the laws are clearly skewed… not toward birth relatives, and certainly not toward adoptees, but toward adopters, prospective adopters and adoption agencies. Just think what might happen if an adoptive family’s information were erroneously given to a birth mother. It’d be front-page news, with everyone accusing the birth mother of heinous crimes she never committed, fussing over the “poor” adoptive family’s “trauma,” and completely ignoring the fact that there’s an adoptee at the center of the maelstrom. Similarly, if an adoption agency’s files were to be hacked, the poor sod who did it would get the book thrown at him, and if it happened to be a searcher who had reached the end of his rope, all searchers would immediately be accused of hacking, harassment, and stalking (we’re already accused of the last two as it is, just for wanting answers).

If you are searching, whether adoptee or birth relative, I suggest you be careful. Who knows where your information might be going? It’s also known that there are scammers who lurk on search sites, pretending to be long-lost adoptees or birth relatives, so watch out.

Adoptees are denied their own identities, yet have no way of protecting them from misuse by others. It’s an ugly paradox buried in the myths and distortions of adoption. And without full and unfettered access to our records, there is little we can do about it. That’s why adoption records should be open, without exception, to ALL participants in an adoption.


  1. “It’s also known that there are scammers who lurk on search sites, pretending to be long-lost adoptees or birth relatives, so watch out.”

    The above happened to me. For weeks I thought my BM had found me. For weeks I was literally eating my heart out every minute of every single day. Come to find out later it was someone whom tried to scam searchers.

    As if I don’t have enough to deal with in regards to adoption: No rights in the State of Florida, no identity, treated as second class, a bathtub full of shame from being a bastard child and the list goes on & on. Now I have to add SUCKER!

    I have had to share my non-id over & over via email, in hard copy and my oh so impersonal favorite through scanning.

    All those iddy-biddy scanned documents looking like papers for a Barbie Doll. They sit cold on my screen as I click-click-click to attach in an email the ONLY part of WHO I AM.

    There is no privacy, there is no control and there has never been any dignity.

    Chynna Luschen

  2. I hope you and many others come to the AAC in April in Cleveland where I will be giving a presentation on Open Records versus Equal Access.

    The term “Open records” is WRONG for so many, many reasons.

    “Protecting” mothers’ “rights’ is so bogus it’s hard to know where to begin except to say that the vast majority of adopters get anything from our names to a complete dossier on us including a file with JUDGMENTS of us and our behavior under great stress, and often a huge big pile of LIES, like the ones we are given in return about the adopters!

    As long as adoptions are done in secret and names are changed we are ALL at the behest of those who hold the key to our truths.

    Sealed records are not the issue, anymore than sitting on th back of us was THE issue: falsified birth certificates are!

    Mirah Riben

  3. Excellent point and one that my mind had only indirectly considered.

    Time to file a lawsuit, sweetie, or at least contact the Illinois Attorney General and demand an investigation. [Oh wait, confidentiality laws would probably prohibit such an inquiry. ;-)]

    One other aspect to searches and privacy:

    Because the State will not cough up my pre-adoption info, I have posted my birth mother’s information all over the internet. This pretty well of violates the “spirit of the law” re: protecting the birth mother’s identity.

    I really do not like posting this woman’s info everywhere. I doubt that she will appreciate it when/if she is ever discovered. But what the heck am I supposed to do? Sit down and shut up and be a “good adoptee”? Fat chance.

    So much for their excuse of protecting the birth mothers’ privacy.

    Now, whatever happened to “the best interest of the child”? Florida Statutes specifically state that all child welfare laws are premised on the best interest of the child. Nowhere does it state that the child’s interests become moot upon reaching the age of majority.

    Lisa Kay
    FL Adoptee, b. Jan 1963
    ISO bMother – SANDRA STRICKLAND [maiden name], born approx 1942, junior college graduate. One sibling, a brother. Her mother was born around 1926 & was a high school grad. Her father was born around 1917 & was a college grad. Presbyterian. English-Welsh. Sandra’s blood type B+. Strawberry blonde hair, hazel eyes, 5’5″, 110 lbs. OB noted “tends to get nervous easily”. Was knocked unconscious in a car accident in 1960. Had a pilodinal cyst removed July 3, 1961. Date of last menstrual period was 4/23/62. Lived in maternity home from 9/15/62 through 2/2/63.

    lol – yeah, I’m going overboard here, but I’m trying to illustrate my point.

    The ol’ double standard rearing its ugly head in another arena.

  4. This is so true!

    I had my privacy violated by an employee of DSS when I first began my search. I had learned that I had a rare, inherited eye condition — one that usually resulted in me being treated like a celebrity patient when I visited Wilmer Eye Clinic as all the fellows crowded around to peer at my Krukenburg spindles. I happened to mention that did have a rare hereditary eye condition that often escapes detection — mine was only found because I left new hard contacts in for too long — and other family members should be aware of it. So this social worker took it upon herself to discuss what she thought she understood of my condition with an ophthamologist without my permission so she could assure me that my birth relatives didn’t really need to know.


    As it turned out there were some health concerns I needed to be aware of but which I had dicovered the hard way by the time I found at age 50.

    And none of this was anybody’s business but that of my relatives’ and mine.

    Of course, when the U.S. president and his functionaries can snoop on your mail and telephone calls, why should we be surprised that professional busybodies can invade your privacy, too.

  5. Triona, I feel that you have made a really good point and it is another reason why records should not be closed. The Illinois intermediary program needs to go. One can’t be certain what is happening to confidential information being provided.

    I know that there are good search angels that keep confidential information to themselves. But there is no way to be certain that someone is not pretending to be a search angel. Just like searchers will pretend to be an adoptee or birth mother in order to subscribe to an Internet mailing list. Usually they are looking for business but if they are deceitful enough to do that, who knows what else they might do. Yet I know that many have been helped by connecting with an angel via the Internet.

    My best advice is to try to get to know someone prior to giving out confidential information. I do discourage anyone from using the IL CI Program.

  6. Not to diminish your warnings about scam artists but to address the original point – I think there is this anomaly because the whole birth mother privacy thing is a red herring. As you say, a very high percentage of us – into the 90% plus range – want to be found. We are just a convenient hook onto which they can hang on-going control of access to the information.

    Adoptee privacy does not further that end particularly, therefore it is not a high priority.