What if we had to wait 125 years before US state birth certificates were made public? Or we had to wait 75 years for death certificates, marriages and divorce records?
It’s time for genealogists and family history researchers to make their voices heard in regard to an attempt to close the US Social Security Death Index to researchers.
The Washington, DC hearings, held on Tuesday, February 2, were a popular topic of discussion at the recently held RootsTech 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As many of you know, during last week's meeting of the House Ways & Means Committee Subcommittee on Social Security hearing, genealogists took it on the chin and were made out to be the scapegoats. This is just the start of an ongoing effort to remove access to these records.
The Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC) is a joint coalition of international genealogical societies representing millions of genealogists and family historians, and just announced the launch of its Stop ID Theft NOW! campaign with its We The People petition posted at WhiteHouse.gov. Here’s the petition. To sign the petition, read the instructions.
RPAC was formed to advise the genealogical community on ensuring proper access to historical records of genealogical value in whatever media they are recorded, the means to affect legislation, and to support strong records preservation policies and practices.
Voting members are the National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), with other participating members (the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the American Society of Genealogists (ASG), ProQuest and Ancestry.com).
But it isn’t only genealogists who are interested in preserving access to the SSDI.
The SSDI is accessed by many companies, non-profits and other entities, in addition to family history researchers. Forensic specialists use it when reuniting remains of military veterans with next-of-kin and descendants. Law offices, banks and insurance companies use it to resolve probate cases and to locate heirs. All these entities would have to spend more money and time accessing other information resources when the SSDI has served this purpose for more than 10 years.
Why do some want the SSDI closed to researchers?
According to the RPAC statement:
Each year, fraudulent tax refund claims based upon identity theft from recently deceased infants and adults are filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The current target is the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) or Death Master File since this file, as found on numerous genealogy-oriented websites, could possibly be the source of identity thieves acquiring a deceased person's Social Security number.
The IRS could close the door to this form of identity theft if, in fact, it were to use the Death Master File for the purpose for which it was created: to reduce fraud. If returns claiming a tax refund were screened against the Master Death File and matching cases identified for special processing, the thief should receive a rejection notice for the filing.
… The House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Social Security is proposing to completely shut down use of the SSDI by genealogists as well as other industries such as banking and insurance that rely upon its information. Such an attempt is short-sighted and runs counter to the original purpose of the SSDI: to actually combat fraud.
According to the FAQs, 25,000 signatures are required on the petition by March 8, 2012. The goal is to reach that minimum number and many more above that to provide a loud, strong message. RPAC believes that it will receive the signatures due to the size of the genealogical community and social networking.
Why an online petition?
The We the People petition - posted at http://wh.gov/khE and now accepting signatures - has a simple mission:
Take immediate steps that would curtail the filing of fraudulent tax refund claims based upon identity theft from recently deceased infants and adults.
[Note: Visitors to the WhiteHouse.gov website must log in to sign the petition, or click Create an Account to register. Once registered, return to http://wh.gov/khE to sign the petition.]
Social media has been the most effective vehicle for similar petitions. You can help by:
-- Facebook users: Post the link http://wh.gov/khE as part of a Status Update on Facebook. Also post it to your Facebook pages or groups to which you subscribe, including genealogical societies.
-- Twitter users: Include the link http://wh.gov/khE and explain why signing the petition is important. Use the hashtag #openssdi.
-- Email signatures: Consider adding the link http://wh.gov/khE to your email signature to let others know about the petition.
Have you found valuable information via the SSDI? How do you feel about being denied access to the SSDI?