I really hate writing headlines like that. But it looks as if plans to severely limit (if not altogether end) public access to the Social Security Death Index are back under discussion. This is all about HR 3475, sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX3). I was looking at it a while ago and it seemed like bad news to genealogical researchers.
And now, as Johnson’s press release informs us, there will now be hearings on the issue. Oral testimony this Thursday (Feb. 2) will be only from invited witnesses. That group is not terribly likely to include genealogists, but we can still make our opinions known through letters, phone calls and emails. Here are good places to go for information:
• Judy Russell at The Legal Genealogist has the essential post about how to act — what the essential arguments are, where to find the background information. Read it; it is important. Of special note is her list of the Ways and Means committee’s Social Security subcommittee members. Note also the members who take email only from constituents; you’ll want to snail-mail them instead.
• There are further resources here, courtesy of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy.
• And Kimberly Powell also summarizes the context clearly and concisely. (Kimberly mentions that the Veterans Affairs’ BIRLS Death File on Ancestry has been affected by the current climate, as well.)
Kind of funny, when you think about it. It’s more possible than ever for all sorts of entities to mine the details of our private lives for commercial gain. Yet apparently the burning data security issue of the day involves … clamping down on genealogists? A few weeks back I was musing that it would be edifying to know just how big a proportion of all identity fraud each year would be eliminated by shutting down the SSDI, and whether a broad-scale change in access would really keep the crooks at bay. Hard numbers on the scope of SSDI problems were elusive in media reports about the issue last fall. And lost in the shuffle are examples of how the SSDI actually is a powerful tool to prevent fraud — the reason it was created in the first place.
Time to educate, inform, and raise our voices.
It is always nice to have reminders that the Social Security Death Index actually does much good for upright citizens, despite recent breathless publicity to the contrary. So from time to time the blog will throw some examples out, even if they aren’t strictly genealogical.
For example, here is an example from the insurance industry in which it seems that the SSDI could have been used more:
Over the past nine months, state regulators, treasurers, comptrollers and some attorneys general have been probing to see if insurers violated laws by using a Social Security death database to cut off retirement-income checks of annuity owners but not using the database to determine if policyholders have died and death benefits should be paid. [Emphasis added.]Insurers say they have behaved lawfully. Insurance contracts typically state that beneficiaries must file a claim to trigger a payment.After regulatory prodding, many more insurers are now using that database in their life-insurance units, and, as a result, some of the $1 billion is now accounted for, according to regulators and public filings of insurance companies. But a lot remains to be distributed.