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FW: [iajgs] Update on the SSDI, SSA-5 issues

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  • Max Heffler
    Dear IAJGS Leaders: You have read my recent postings on the SSDI and SSA-5 recent developments which will severely hamper genealogists access to relevant
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 21, 2011
      Dear IAJGS Leaders:

      You have read my recent postings on the SSDI and SSA-5 recent developments
      which will severely hamper genealogists access to relevant information--
      Social Security numbers that are on "protected" death records and
      applicant's parents names that are included on SSA-5 applications that are
      less than 100 years of age with proof of death or 125 years with no proof of

      The IAJGS is taking this assault on access to information very seriously,
      not only independently through the Public Records Access Monitoring
      Committee (PRAMC), but as a managing member of the Records Preservation and
      Access Committee (RPAC) which is comprised of representatives of the FGS,
      IAJGS, NGS, APG, BCG, FamilySearch, American Society of Genealogists,
      Ancestry.com and ProQuest.

      I have spoken with staff at the House Ways and Means Committee about their
      potential hearings which the subcommittee chairman on Social Security,
      Congressman Sam Johnson (R- Texas) has called for--which will be held in
      early 2012. The subcommittee members are most interested in the effect
      identity theft has on the tax code with people not being able to access any
      tax refunds, etc. and of course the precipitating issue of child identity
      theft where a deceased child's Social Security number was used by someone to
      declare the deceased child (not theirs) as a dependent on their taxes for a

      I have talked with the legal counsel of the FGS, who also serves on RPAC
      and the genealogical community is very concerned about the recent
      developments and we are discussing what we can do as a unified community
      when various hearings will be held. We must let the leaders understand that
      genealogy is not "just a hobby" but a critical tool in detecting family
      inherited diseases and access to full records to assure that we are looking
      at the correct information is essential. Knowing a deceased person's Social
      Security number is a way of tying different records to the correct person.
      The parents names on the SSA-5 forms are essential to tracing back on both
      the parents' sides, as mother's maiden names are included on the SSA-5's.

      Thanks to Rand Fishbein, a member of JGS Greater Washington and a member of
      the JewishGen Board of Governors, who shared a letter addressed to
      "colleagues" by US Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) encouraging Members (of
      Congress) to support an initiative to end the posting on genealogy websites
      of Social Security numbers belonging to deceased individuals. Quoting Rand:
      "The Senator believes that such postings contribute to identity theft and
      are an unwelcome infringement on the privacy rights of citizens. Needless to
      say, if this effort succeeds, it is sure to have a significant impact on the
      family history research community." Senator Brown serves as the Chairman of
      the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Social Security.
      Paragraph 7 below shows the lack of understanding of what genealogists
      require and why! As the letter is not posted to an accessible website, I am
      copying it below: (I purposely did not mention the name of the constituent)
      [Note: the Death Master File is the basis of the Social Security Death

      Sherrod Brown
      US Senate

      November 14, 2011

      "Dear Colleague:

      I encourage you to join me in writing letters to genealogy websites urging
      them to remove and no longer post the Social Security numbers of deceased

      Earlier this year, I learned of the plight of my constituent, XXXX. In the
      wake of her three-month old daughter's death, XXXX discovered that her
      daughter's Social Security number was posted on various genealogy websites
      and that her daughter's Social Security number had been fraudulently used on
      an IRS Tax return filing.

      In response to XXX situation, I sent letters to the Social Security
      Administration (SSA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Chief
      Executive Officer of Ancestry.com. I encouraged the FTC and SSA to
      investigate the practices of websites like Ancestry.com, and asked the FTC
      to work with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ensure victims of this
      type of tax fraud are provided with a prompt remedy.

      Social Security numbers of deceased individuals are available to the public
      through the Death Master File (DMF), which contains information on more than
      82 million deceased individuals. The SSA created the DMF as the result of
      the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit where the court held that,
      based on the Privacy Act, an individual's privacy rights are extinguished at
      death and required the SSA to release the Social Security number, surname,
      and date of death of deceased individuals.

      The SSA provides the data that compromises the DMF to the Department of
      Commerce's National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which sells the
      data to various entities such as Federal, state and local governments;
      financial, investigative, credit reporting, and medical research
      organizations; and public customers--including genealogy websites.

      Many DMF purchasers use the data to prevent fraud by updating financial
      information and freezing deceased persons' accounts. But, DMF data can also
      be used for fraudulent purposes. We are all aware that identity theft is
      growing problem, and posting such personally identifiable information on
      publicly available genealogy websites is an easy mark for criminals.

      Genealogy websites are not violating the law in posting Social Security
      numbers, but genealogical research must be balanced against the need to
      protect individuals and families from identity theft and fraud. Given the
      breadth of information available on these websites--full names, birth dates
      and death dates--Social Security numbers provide little additional benefit
      to family history researchers.

      Please join me in the effort to educate genealogy websites about the
      unintended consequences of making Social Security numbers readily available
      to the public. Letters will be sent to the following companies due to their
      disclosure of Social Security numbers on their websites:
      Ancestry.com; Genealogy.com; Familysearch.com; GenealogyBank.com,
      Genealogy.About.com, Ssdi-search.com, Familytreemagazine.com, vitalrec.com

      If you would like to sign onto the letters or have any questions, please
      contact Erin Richardson in Senator Brown's office at 202-224-2315 or

      Sherrod Brown
      Unites States Senator"

      Accompanying this was a model letter to Ancestry.com asking them to remove
      and no longer post Social Security numbers on their website as it leads to
      identity theft.

      It is interesting to note that the NTIS website lists a reason for the SSDI
      as an identity theft deterrent.

      We have all read about computer hacking into government and financial
      services organizations which leads to identity theft. I have not read any
      cases that have tied identity theft to the posting of Social Security
      numbers on genealogy websites as the cause. If any of you are aware of such
      reports, I would appreciate your sharing them with me.

      Jan Meisels Allen
      IAJGS Vice President
      Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee
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