For the past year the genealogical community has been concerned about specific threats to our access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) arising out of legislative responses to the filing of fraudulent tax refund claims involving the theft of identities of recently deceased infants and adults. The Records Preservation and Access Committee has been active in identifying legislative proposals limiting access to this and other vital records and attempting to educate legislators about the implications of closing these records.
I have come away with one inescapable conclusion—We in the genealogical community have done an inadequate job of educating decision-makers about our contributions to society or the importance of access to the records we need. At the moment, I see limited indications of anyone involved in the legislative process giving sympathetic consideration to our concerns or effectively advocating for them.
Advocates for closing records have been much more vocal and active. Coalitions including such groups have been active in the arena in which some of our issues are being hammered out. Conspicuously missing has been anyone representing genealogical interests at the table.
Recently, the Digital Due Process Coalition, a broadly-based coalition of commercial enterprises and NGOs has come to our attention, more fully described at http://www.digitaldueprocess.org . Their current legislative focus has been on updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) originally adopted in 1986. I understand that the active legislative vehicle of interest to this coalition was pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the form of an Substitute amendment to H.R. 2471 offered by the Committee Chair Senator Leahy with markup scheduled for 29 November. The Leahy Amendment is found at: http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/legislation/upload/Leahy-Substitute-HR-2471.pdf .
At the October monthly RPAC conference call, I was asked to explore the appropriateness of RPAC (or its component entities) participating in the activities of this coalition and injecting genealogical concerns into the dialogues hosted by them. I considered this assignment to be part of an ongoing search for allies in our quest to preserve and promote access to the records we need.
My preliminary impression, as reported to the RPAC leadership in mid-November, was that this coalition may provide a useful forum in the future for addressing our concerns about SSDI access, Model State Vital Statistics Act, records preservation initiatives, etc. The pending legislation updating ECPA has the potential of significantly impacting the operation of those entities in the genealogical community which maintain large data bases containing personally identifiable information, especially on living people. Although genealogical societies may see only limited applicability of this legislation to their operations, it clearly does have the potential of impacting how major data aggregators such as FamilySearch and Ancestry do business.
More to come.