Tuesday, July 30, 2013

[USA] New Bi-partisan Bill HR 2720 Introduced Limiting Access to the Death Master File-SSDI

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen



While we thought Congress was not currently focusing directly on the Death Master File (DMF) and the commercial version known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)—that changed on July 18 when HR 2720 was introduced by House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and the ranking member, Xavier Becarra (D-CA).  The bill is named for a child who died --Alexis Agin Identity Theft Protection Act of 2013.  Named after a deceased child victim of identity fraud, the legislation would end the required publication of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) DMF.  The DMF is a publicly-available extract of certain death information in the SSA’s records, including the deceased individual’s Social Security number, first name, last name, date of birth and date of death.  The deceased’s father testified  last year at a hearing before Congressman Johnson’s Subcommittee that his deceased daughter’s Social Security number was fraudulently used when someone-not he as  parent-- applied for a tax return using the child’s Social Security number.  The father, an attorney in Virginia, has testified that he believes his daughter’s Social Security Number was obtained from a genealogy website that had the SSDI available for all to see.  Many question whether that was the source or someone in a medical setting who fraudulently used or sold the number as his testimony indicated that several parents whose children were treated for the same medical condition and had died, had their deceased’s child’s Social Security number violated.

The bill would mandate that, starting January 2014, only death information older than three years would be made publicly available by the Social Security Administration through the DMF, which will prevent criminals from filing fraudulent tax returns before the legitimate family files its return.  The DMF would continue to be available to entities who need the information to administer benefits or prevent fraud, so long as they have safeguards in place to protect the data. The bill would end all public release of the DMF by the Social Security Administration on January 1, 2019.

While the genealogical community has proposed a compromise last year where the majority of genealogists can wait 2-3 years we advocated exemptions for certain genealogists to be eligible for certification for immediate access for purposes such as tracking lost heirs, investigating family medical histories, repatriating the remains of deceased individuals to surviving relatives, and other compelling purposes;  These genealogists include: forensic genealogists, heir researchers, and those researching individual genetically inherited diseases. No such exemption is included in the bill.

The billmay be read at:


To read a bill summary prepared by Congressman Johnson’s staff, a bill analysis, and about last year’s hearings go to: http://waysandmeans.house.gov/socialsecurity/alexis-agin-identity-theft-protection-act-of-2013.htm

As of posting this notice no hearing date for HR 2720 has been set.  When a hearing date is scheduled you will be notified on this forum.

Thank you to Kenneth Ryesky, member,  IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee for bringing this to our attention.

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


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