Would you order your birth certificate online?

Last week, Government Technology featured an article about Ottawa County, Mich., which announced a service that is rarely seen in local, state or federal government. Citizens can now “order and instantly print out certified copies of vital records from the county clerk’s office” through their website. This means that citizens don’t need to visit the clerk’s office for records like property deeds and marriage licenses. These records will all be available to order online.

A few years ago, I had to get my U.S. passport. I didn’t have my original birth certificate, and, because my family moved around a lot when I was growing up, it got lost in all the chaos. I was nowhere near the town I was born in. I went online to find out how I could order a copy of my birth certificate. I found the county clerk’s website, but then I had to search for the phone number to the records department. After a short call, I had to download a form, fill it out, provide documentation on my identity, fill out a check to pay for the administrative fees and mail that all to the county.

Two weeks later, I received a nicely printed copy of my birth certificate, complete with the county seal embossed on the front of the certificate.

Was that process a lot of work for me? No, not particularly. Did it work the way it was supposed to? Yes – I filled out my form and information, and I received what I needed.

But would I have been more satisfied if I could have just gone online, put in my credit card information and printed out a certified copy in about 10 minutes? Absolutely.

Call it part of the “instant gratification” phenomenon, but my generation (I straddle the Gen Y/Millennial divide) simply grew up being able to find what we needed online – and then to pay for and print what we needed immediately. (Millennials don’t even print out information these days; they just get text messages!)

The article reviewed some security concerns with a service like this and goes into more information about Ottawa County’s support of the technology used to offer this service. Would you use a service like this? Do the security concerns outweigh the convenience or vice versa? Do you think we’ll get to a point where we just get an MMS (essentially, a picture message) with a copy of a birth certificate? I’d love to hear what you think!

Original post on Reach the Public.

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Scott Primeau

Mary, I would absolutely use such a service. In fact, a few years ago I had to obtain a birth certificate from the State of Michigan and I was very pleased to find that I could order it online (but the certificate was sent in the mail-still pretty good).

The agency I work for has been developing and, in many cases, requiring online services. So, I’m a bit biased, but I think the efficiency gains are very worthwhile. We don’t get everything right, and some people need assistance navigating our online services, but the effort has been very successful overall.

MMS is an interesting idea. Another option would be for all the government agencies to share access to their records among each other. Why can’t the Division of Motor Vehicles in Colorado verify electronically that I had a drivers license in Michigan? Why do I need to bring in multiple forms of paper ID? There might be some big brother concerns there, but the efficiency would be great.

Mary Yang

Scott, I think the Big Brother idea does start to creep in a bit, but I also think that the efficiency is worth it. In a mobile society, and as someone who lives for my ability to pick up and go whenever (theoretically) I want to, it’s important for government to offer the kind of online/virtual services that I get (essentially) everywhere else.

I think the idea of the DMV in CO electronically verifying that you had a license in MI is a great one, too. It seems to me that the focus right now, though, is on electronic health records and creating a national network to share patient health information that can potentially/probably increase the quality of care. But, there are a lot of issues with that (privacy concerns, security issues, etc.), and it would seem that creating a similar network with fewer hurdles to overcome might be a good way to start moving in the right direction without getting hung up on so many challenges up front.