I wrote last week about the very real threat of losing all public access to the Social Security Death Master File, or SSDI. This would be a HUGE loss to anyone researching individuals in the U.S., whether you are researching ancestors, relatives, descendants of recovered military MIAs, missing heirs, etc. That's on top of the enormous threat to identity theft if this public database is no longer freely available to the many small and medium-sized businesses that use the death master file to verify an individual's identity in an effort to prevent fraud.
The Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC) has some great information for everyone, whether inside or outside the U.S., who uses and values the SSDI. For now they are encouraging formal responses to the Ways & Means Committee only for societies, but are strongly encouraging individuals to write to their Senators and Representatives. Since mail is often delayed, a faxed letter is even better. They also plan to launch a public petition campaign sometime this week -- keep an eye on the RPAC website for updates. When writing your letter, it is important that you stress the importance of this database not just to genealogists, but to a wide variety of researchers, as well as the very real threat to identity threat protection that losing public access to the SSDI would bring.
The very real concerns brought on by the parents who have had the identity of their deceased children stolen is bringing about a rapid emotional response from our government, but what's being lost is the very wide-reaching impact that loss of public access to this database will have. Hopefully, we can help calm this emotionally-charged response down to the point where everyone is willing to listen to the facts and work together to find a compromise that both protects the very recently deceased, while maintaing access to the SSDI. Perhaps there is no need to include the Social Security numbers of children under the age of 18? Perhaps we should follow Ancestry's approach of removing the Social Security numbers (but not the rest of the information) for those deceased less than 10 years? Or even better, we could compromise by supporting the several bills that prohibit disclosure of a deceased's SSN in the calendar year of death and calendar year following death.
To further educate yourself on the topic:
- RPAC: Talking Points on Why Genealogists Need the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
- IAJGS: US and Canadian Government Legislative Websites
- Testimony from the Feb. 2, 2012 Hearing of the House Ways & Means Committee (both for and against)