Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Researching the issues surrounding the SSDI

In writing on this subject, I am in no way attempting to minimize the anguish caused by the mis-use of a deceased child's Social Security Number. I am attempting to defend the legitimate use of the information contained in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for genealogical purposes. There are a number of simple solutions to the perceived problem, none of which involve eliminating genealogical use of the data. For example, information concerning minors could be retained internally or not subject public use until one year after the date of death. The problem is that present proposals could have the draconian effect of eliminating the use of the SSDI altogether.

There is currently a bill pending before the U.S. House of Representatives that would severely limit genealogists' use of the Social Security Death Index. During the next few days and weeks, I will be addressing the details of the use of the current SSDI and the legal issues surrounding the bill. Initially, my examination will be directed towards the testimony given before the House Committee on Ways and Means in hearings before the Committee.

In my last post on the SSDI, I outlined a few of the issues involved in the conflict. The core issue is the allegation that the SSDI is used to perpetrate fraud though the appropriation of the Social Security Numbers of deceased minors. So far, the testimony in the hearing, to some extent, has contradicted that view. The first quote is from Stuart K. Pratt, Chief Executive Officer, Consumer Data Industry Association who testified before the hearing dated February 2, 2012. Mr. Pratt began by outlining the beneficial uses of the SSDI (also referred to as the Death Index or Social Security's Death Master File), he then said the following:

Thieves are not perpetrating these crimes using DMF data. According to the Privacy Rights Clearing House identity thieves obtain information about deceased individuals in
various ways including:
  • Watching the obituaries and engaging in pretexting to obtain critical identifying information.
  • Stealing or ordering death certificates
  • The thief may also be a family member who may take advantage of the situation
  • or who has already been using that identity. This may be especially true if the deceased suffered from lengthy illness, mental confusion, or if there is disagreement among family members prior to the death.
There are few options for preventing fraud and ensuring legal compliance if the DMF is cut off. In fact, while the DMF is made available today as a result of a 1978 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in Federal District Court, it is the position of the CDIA that appropriate access to the DMF should be codified into law and not left to future interpretations of FOIA.
This is significant when you take into account the further testimony of John Breyault
Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications & Fraud, National Consumers League, who testified at the same hearing and said,
While it is unknown how many deceased children’s identities scam artists have misappropriated, the volume of news articles about this scam and anecdotal evidence from parents of the deceased children suggest it is not limited to a few isolated cases.
In short, the focus of the hearing is on a problem which although it is acknowledged exists has no supporting data.

I will be examining Mr. Breyault's testimony in subsequent posts as he uses some statistics that do not support the issues before the committee.

If you find anything I write in these blog posts to be at all inaccurate, I invite you to comment and point me to substantiating source material.

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