Last month I wrote about several popular genealogy sites being pressured into removing or altering access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) through the actions of four Senators in support of a bill by Representative Sam Johnson (R - Texas) to remove all public access to the Death Master File, often referred to as the SSDI. This is an extremely valuable tool for anyone researching 20th century U.S. ancestors, and loss of access would be a huge blow for genealogists.
This Thursday, February 2, 2012, the Subcommittee on Social Security of the House Ways & Means Committee in Washington, D.C., will hold a hearing on the "accuracy and uses of the Social Security Administration's Death Master File," which is a fancy way of saying that they want to discuss permanently closing all public access. In case you still aren't worried, the committee is only allowing invited witnesses to offer oral testimony at this hearing -- and I'm going to hazard a guess that there aren't any genealogical organizations on the invited witness list. We can, however, submit written testimony, and genealogist and lawyer Judy G. Russell offers some excellent advice on how to do just that on her blog, The Legal Genealogist. This is scary stuff, folks, so please take the time to read her post and make sure your voice is heard.
Sadly, another useful database that I mentioned in the same blog discussion which also included social security numbers, has also been recently removed by Ancestry.com. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010, was removed by Ancestry.com last week after they were contacted by the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs upon learning that they had mistakenly included data about some living Veterans because some death reports provided to the website were inaccurate (let me guess -- the SSDI again). I absolutely support removing any personal identifying information about living veterans, but this still sounds like yet another case of genealogists and other researchers and investigators being penalized because the U.S. government can't manage to maintain accurate information on deceased individuals.