Update on the European Union and Other Countries Regarding the “Right to Be Forgotten”

With thanks to Jan Meisels Allen.

EU Logo

The EU Observer has written an interesting update on the European Union’s (EU) proposed data privacy legislation-which was first introduced in 2012. This is the legislation that espouses the “right to be forgotten” now called the “right to be erased”  a concept causing genealogists concern as to what records may be available after the legislation is enacted. You may recall the EU Parliament passed its version in March of last year—and then the May 2014 elections occurred before the EU Council voted. Both the EU legislative chambers must vote on the same piece of legislation before it can be enacted. (See below for a brief description of the EU legislative structure.) The legislation has a number of “chapters” and some are more contentious than others.  Thus far, agreements have been reached on rules for public authorities; data transfer rules to countries outside the EU, rules on processors, controllers, and data protection officers, as well as rules on archiving and statistics for history and research purposes.  Also agreed upon was designating the lead data protection authority, charged to resolve disputes, as the one based in the country of the company’s main establishment.

In addition to the “right to be forgotten/right to be erased” the following issues still need to be agreed upon: data subject rights, sanctions, definitions, final provisions, and the complex legal interpretations of implemented and delegated acts (secondary legislation). The causes of the delay are due to cultural differences between the 28 member EU states and the complexity of the regulation. For example, Scandinavian countries are in favor of the right to public information prevailing over privacy claims whereas Germany, the Netherlands, or Austria would be more likely to favor privacy over the right to public information.

There are differences between what the EU Parliament wants and what individual members states want. One such issue is the EU Parliament consent to process personal data to be explicit with member states wanting a more ambiguous option. Another issue with differences is member states want a risk-based approach to data protection, which would see risk quantified through things like impact assessments.

How IT companies handle the data is also a debate between the Parliament and individual member states. Parliament says IT systems should design their services “in a data-minimizing way and with the most data protection-friendly pre-settings”.  Member states, however, say it should be optional that data protection officers make sure a company properly complies with the reformed rules. Parliament wants a mandatory appointment of such officers that should depend on the amount and relevance of data processed by the company.

Another difference between Parliament and member states is over rule-breaking and any sanctions.  Member states want sanctions to be up to two percent of global annual turnover but the EU Parliament is suggesting as much as five percent.  The difference is a significant financial burden.

Again, the fundamental issue is privacy rights vs the right to know.

The plan is to have member states adopt their plans by June 15 enabling negotiations with the EU Parliament to begin.

To read the article see: https://euobserver.com/justice/128812

There have been member state courts that have weighed in with decisions on the “right to be forgotten”, the extraterritoriality of the EU decisions on data aggregators such as Google and social media firms such as Facebook.  These have been reported upon previously. However, here are some updates you may find of interest:

The European Union, as part of its privacy issues are focusing on social media companies such as Facebook, and now Twitter.

In the New York Times on May 26, there are several articles of interest on these two topics:

Who’s the Watchdog? In Europe, the Answer is Complicated focuses on Facebook and the fight with the privacy watchdogs and individual’s online data. As many genealogists use Facebook in their genealogy research and to communicate with other family historians around the globe, this article may be of interest.  To read the article go to: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/25/whos-the-watchdog-in-europe-the-answer-is-complicated/

To read more about Facebook and the EU see: http://tinyurl.com/lv9t4ww

Original url:


As Facebook Sweeps Across Europe, Regulators Gird for Battle discusses the EU’s position regarding Facebook and other companies and whether they unfairly favor their own services over those of rivals.  The EU Court of Justice is expected to rule in late June whether Facebook can continue transferring user data between Europe and the United States.  See: http://tinyurl.com/l9qhvou

Original url:



On May 18 Irish Data Commissioner took charge of policing Twitter privacy of the 300 million people who use twitter outside the U.S. The move means all of the social network’s users outside of the US will come under the European Union’s Data Protection Directive.  To read the article see: http://www.rte.ie/news/2015/0518/701888-twitter-data/

The EU’s Data Protection Directive is of concern to genealogists and the EU has been debating the “right to be forgotten/right to be erased” for several years and still negotiating with the 28 member states as to the final version of the new regulation.

Germany and Mexico and More: The Right to Be Forgotten Concept is Spreading

There have been two recent cases where the “right to be forgotten” has unfortunately “won” and records are being refused and links being removed from Google.  As mentioned previously many countries, not only the 28 EU member countries, have Data Protection Officers and they are making decisions in favor of closing access, as part of the “right to be forgotten”.


The Data Protection Official of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia stopped the City of Minden who had put on line their city’s archives with family information, photographs and more.  The rationale may be found at:   https://www.ldi.nrw.de/mainmenu_Service/submenu_Berichte/Inhalt/22_DIB/DIB_22.pdfpage 88, it is in German. Fritz Neubauer who shared the information with me translated a summary of the rationale as “Given the background of anti0Semietic feelings including criminal acts a use against the original purpose cannot be excluded”.

Part of the discussion was about using the names of the deceased as it is possible to infer something and possibly find living relatives.  Apparently, the protest was initiated by living relatives who claim they were without  rights nor protection during Nazi times and now if they say their names online world-wide this would be another way for them to be “on show” with modern technology.  The German Federal Archives does not currently have to follow what the state of North Rhine-Westphalia requires and so far the Munich Memorial Book is still online. (North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state of Germany, as well as the fourth largest by area).



Google has already been the focus of the “right to be forgotten” in a European Union Court of Justice decision requiring the search engine to remove links to stories if the person about whom story links is about finds it unfavorable to them even if it is true. Thus far, Google has received over 760,000 requests—not all have been approved for removal.

Now, Mexico’s Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAL) ruled against Google Mexico.  In January, IFAL came down on the side of a transportation scion who wanted three links removed that were negative to his family’s business dealings which included a government bailout of bad loans.  While Mexico, like the European Union, have exceptions to the Internet privacy rules if the information is in the public interest, IFAL did not apply that to this case. Just as the EU Court did not apply it to the Spanish lawyer’s case that required Google to remove the links that were true—but negative to the plaintiff who had the links about past financial difficulties.  The IFAL ruling that came down in January has sparked more claims.  Google Mexico said the decision infringes on the right to access information and freedom of speech. At this point the decision only affects links that are on the Mexican Google site: google.com.mex.

As previously reported, a French Court stated that the EU decision is relevant outside of the EU if the website covers EU residents—such as Google.com in the US or other non-EU countries.  This court decision relates to removing a link to a story in a 2007 article in the magazine Fortuna which referred to a lawsuit by a shareholder against a businessman’s late father who owned a long-haul bus lines business for generations.  The IFAI found for removing the information when its “persistence causes injury” even if the information was lawfully published. Another case related to the former governor of Coahuila with a before and after photo when the “before” photo was before he lost weight.  A new business has been “created” which specializes in fighting to remove Internet links with their website saying,” We erase your past”.

To read the story go to: http://www.wsj.com/articles/google-wages-free-speech-fight-in-mexico-1432723483.  Note if you type into Google’s search box the title of the story, Google Wages Free-Speech Fight in Mexico, you can read the entire story whereas if you click on the link you only get part of the story with a prompt to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.

The Right to be Forgotten Continues To Spread Across the Globe

Other Latin American countries have passed or are considering digital-privacy laws in Brazil, Chile and Argentina. Argentina’s top court rejected a case against Google and Yahoo for damages after a model’s name was associated with sexual content, but allowed elimination of links in some instances. Hong Kong’s top privacy regulator suggested that Google should apply the EU ruling globally.  A Tokyo court ordered Google to omit some posts from search results that a local man said could injure his reputation and violate his privacy. South Korea’s telecommunications regulator established a task force to look into legislation making it easier to get information removed from the Internet.

The right to privacy vs the right to know appears to be spreading and this affects all of us. We are now seeing with the German and Mexican examples above that the concept of the “right to be forgotten” is dealing with those who are deceased not just the living. If these “right to be forgotten” decisions continue to apply to the dead, then we have a major problem with our accessing records of deceased ancestors.

Brief EU Legislative Structure Description

The European Union Parliament is the parliamentary institution of the EU which is directly elected every five years.  It is composed of 751 members (750 plus the President who is elected by the Parliament). The Members of Parliament (MEPs) are grouped not by country affiliation but by political party. The number of MEPs per member country is proportionate to their population. Together with the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, it exercises the legislative function of the EU and it has legislative power that the Council and Commission do not possess The Parliament does not possess the authority to initiate legislation. (http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-parliament/index_en.htm)

The Council of the European Union (the Council) is part of the EU legislature, representing the executives of 28 EU member states. The Council is comprised of the 28 National Ministers—one for each member of the European Union. (http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-council/index_en.htm ) As both organizations share equal legislative responsibilities for the legislation to become law, both organizations must agree to an identical proposal to become law.

The European Commission is the EU’s executive body. It represents the interests of the European Union as a whole (not the interests of individual countries).  The Commission’s main roles are to: propose legislation which is then adopted by the European Parliament and the Council; enforce European law (where necessary with the help of the European Union Court of Justice); and set objectives and priorities for action. (http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-commission/index_en.htm).

Jan Meisels Allen

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee


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Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights — We Need Your Support!

With thanks to RPAC Chair, Jan Alpert.

DeclarationSignaturePageOrganizational 2015

Did you know that a date of death is no longer added to the Social Security Death Index until three years after the event occurs?


Did you know the State Vital Records Officers have a Model Act which if passed in your state will close access to birth record for 125 years, marriage records for 100 years, and death records for 75 years?


GENEALOGISTS NEED TO WORK TOGETHER AND SPEAK-UP IF WE ARE TO REVERSE THESE RECENT TRENDS! We need to let Congress and our state legislatures know that genealogists need access to public records and GENEALOGISTS VOTE! You can help by signing the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights and by asking the societies to which you belong to encourage members to also sign the Declaration.


The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) has obtained 8,000 signatures over the last year including more than 1,500 at the national genealogy conferences, over 2,300 at regional, state, and local societies, and 4,100 online signatures. WE NEED 10,000 SIGNATURES BY THE END OF 2015 FOR GENEALOGISTS TO MAKE A STRONG STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF OPEN ACCESS TO PUBLIC RECORDS.


We need YOU to sign the Declaration. Take five minutes and sign at http://bit.ly/gen-declaration.


Spread the word! Take a copy of the Declaration signature form to your local society and obtain more signatures. The signature form for organizations can be found on this RPAC Blog at the top of this posting.


Keep reading if you want more details about how access for genealogists has been restricted this year. There’s bad news, but there’s good news, too.


  • Section 203 of the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act, which went into effect 29 March 2014, closed access to the Death Master File (used by genealogists as the Social Security Death Index) for three years after an individual’s death. Access during the three-year embargo is limited to persons certified by the Commerce Department. Certification costs $400; the annual cost to access the data is $995; the available data is limited; the search engine inadequate, and new audit and security requirements will make access unaffordable by even professional genealogists.
  • Since 1 November 2011, the public DMF/SSDI has omitted those deaths which were reported only by states. The Social Security Administration also omits geographic data, although data aggregators such as Ancestry have been able to add data such as state of issue back into the SSDI based upon the first three digits of the SSN.
  • Genealogists have had no access to death records in Oklahoma since a version of the 2011 Revision of the Model Vital Statistics Act was passed in 2012. Efforts to amend the law and provide access to attorneys did not make it out of committee in the 2015 legislative session.
  • The Kansas Supreme Court has a proposed Rule 106 which would redact the mother’s maiden name, date of birth, and city and state of birth from marriage licenses. RPAC and Kansas genealogy organizations have written the court but the procedures for implementation of a judicial rule are not clear so RPAC is continuing to follow up.


Where genealogists have been actively involved, access to vital records has improved. On a positive note genealogists from some states have been able to reverse the closure trend:


  • Death Records in Virginia are closed for only 25 years. Images of Virginia Death Records 1912-2014 and Marriage Records 1936-2014 are available at the Library of Virginia and on Ancestry.com through 1987.
  • See the 14 June 2015 RPAC Blog post, “Virginia Vital Records Online,” at http://www.fgs.org/RPAC for more details.
  • Pennsylvania death records have been digitized from 1906 to 1963 and are also available in the state and on Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania death records are closed for 50 years.
  • The Michigan State Archives has recently added free digitized copies of death records from 1921-1952 to its earlier collection of imaged death records from 1897-1920.


For current updates on access issues check the RPAC Blog at http://www.fgs.org/RPAC.


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RPAC and the Congressional History Caucus

With thanks to Jan Alpert.

At the end of 2014, RPAC was invited to join the National Coalition for History (NCH) which was approved by the sponsoring organizations of RPAC (FGS, IAJGS, and NGS) for calendar year 2015. You can learn more about the National Coalition for History and the participating organizations on its website: http://historycoalition.org/.


One of the National Coalition for History’s major initiatives is the Congressional History Caucus. The caucus aims to provide a forum for members of Congress to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject on Capital Hill, using the members of the NHC as a resource. The caucus provides the opportunity for NCH members to build lasting relationships between Members of Congress and historians, archivists, teachers, students, genealogists, researchers and other stakeholders in their respective districts.


For the last few years RPAC has been responding to regulations and legislation that threaten access to state and federal records. We view the Congressional History Caucus as a way to have a positive, proactive influence on members of Congress. We need you to ask your representative to become a member of the History Caucus be either calling or sending an email. Detailed information about the caucus and its sponsors can be found at http://historycoalition.org/congressional-history-caucus/. The link also includes instructions about how to contact your Congressperson.

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DMF — Comment period on Proposed Final Rule closed 30 March — Updated

Section 203 of The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 directed the Secretary of Commerce to develop a certification program limiting access to the Social Security Administration’s  Death Master File (DMF), also known to most genealogists as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).  For over a year, Commerce has pursued a robust notice and comment process leading, most recently,  to an opportunity for the public to provide comments on a proposed Final Rule.

By the time the comment period closed on Monday, the 30th of March, over ninety parties had docketed statements now appearing at:  http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketBrowser;rpp=25;po=0;dct=PS;D=DOC-2014-0001 .

The RPAC statement is here:Comments_on_DMF_Final_Rule_from_RPAC_Jan_2015_final

The IAJGS Statement is here:  IAJGS_Statement_on_Final_Rule_for_Accesss_to_DMF-finalc

and the FGS statement is here:  FGS Response to proposed Final Rule 30 March 2015

Statements from other members of the genealogical community were particularly informative.  Examples include:

(1) Dee Dee King Comment #11 on FR Doc # 2014-30199

(2)  Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt  Comment #2 on FR Doc # 2014-30199

(3)  Leslie Lawson  Comment #10 on FR Doc # 2014-30199

(4) Judge Nathan White  Comment #33 on FR Doc # 2015-01546

The Executive Summary of the FGS statement provides:  “While commending the work of NTIS in crafting regulations implementing Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, as written, we suggest areas where changes in legislative language might enhance the ability to (1) achieve the stated goal of reducing the opportunities for identity theft, and (2) minimize the unintended adverse consequences of limiting access and content available to legitimate users.  Further question whether these provisions belong in permanent legislation and suggest ways of assessing their effectiveness and the impact of more targeted measures.  A rigorous case study may be appropriate.”

Initiatives to restrict access to records – Targeting the Data

In recent years we have seen more than a thousand legislative initiatives impacting access to records at the Federal, state and local levels, the vast majority of which would have had the effect of limiting that access for genealogical and other purposes.  The rationale used to justify these measures suggests an almost reflexive belief that the best or only way to prevent the fraudulent use of such data by identity thieves is to close the records.  This logic carries with it the unstated assumption that no harm or loss accompanies such closures.

Not only do members of the genealogical community describe the harm done by closing this record, some interesting allies are being found.  Additional dramatic examples of the unintended consequences of closing the DMF are also provided by  those involved in federal program evaluation and related research among others:

(1) American Economics Association  Comment #44 on FR Doc # 2015-01546

(2)  Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics  Comment #27 on FR Doc # 2015-01546undefined

[We will supplement this post in coming days after we review and can highlight materials contributed by others.]  Done 17 April 2015.


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Kansas Supreme Court Rule would redact Marriage Certificates

With thanks to Jan Alpert and Jan Meisels Allen

The Judicial Administration in Labette County, Kansas recently began redacting some of the marriage information when responding to a request for copy of a marriage certificate. They were challenged as to their authority for making the redactions. It appears that as a result the challenge, the Judicial Administration in Labette County petitioned the Kansas Supreme Court to make the change to Rule 106. The Kansas Council of Genealogical Societies (KCGS) has pointed out that in proposing the change to Rule 106, the court is taking on a legislative function by trying to amend the Kansas Open Records Act. KCGS contacted RPAC for permission to use some of the information we have written on other record access issues. RPAC then worked with KCGS in coordinating our statements to the Court.


Attached is a letter recently sent by the Kansas Council of Genealogical Societies, Inc. to the Kansas Supreme Court. Public comments may be addressed to Publiccomments@kscourts.org until April 12, 2015. Genealogists are encouraged to write.

KCGS letter is here  KCGSSupremeCourtResponse.

RPAC letter is here RPAC letter Kansas Supreme Court Rule 106.

IAJGS letter is here IAJGS Letter to KS Supreme Court Re Rule 106.


Genealogists is other states need to be aware that most state legislatures are now in session and legislation or administrative rules could be introduced which restrict access to vital records in your state. If you are facing new legislation contact RPAC at access@fgs.org for assistance in coordinating the participation and response from both the state and national genealogical organizations.

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Part 4 – DMF Paradigm – Analysis Begins

The previous articles in this series are found at:

Part 1 —  http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2015/01/09/the-death-master-file-paradigm-introduction/

Part 2 — http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2015/01/21/dmf-paradigm-part-2-what-we-thought-we-knew-in-2011/

Part 3 — http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2015/03/06/part-3-dmf-paradigm-countermeasures-taken/

What Do We Know Now That We Did Not Know in 2011?

The data necessary to initially determine the nature and magnitude of tax fraud by identity theft cases in 2011 would not become available until the fall of 2013 with the publication of the report of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration dated September 20, 2013 found at:  http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2013reports/201340122fr.pdf

The chart below is drawn from Tax Year 2011 tax returns, those filed in early 2012.  Please note that the only SSNs that would appear in the DMF/SSDI would be the “Deceased” Category.  The IRS was utilizing a limited screening filter that appears not to have used the DMF to flag for special attention returns citing the SSNs of deceased individuals.

The following chart is particularly informative:


In December 2011, genealogical web sites began masking the SSNs of recently deceased persons and the IRS reportedly significantly improved their software filters.  Even with deceased SSNs “exposed” during 2011, the 19,102 suspicious returns listed above represented less than 2% of the 1,086,998 potentially fraudulent returns filed in 2011.

Limitations on access to the DMF will have no impact on cases representing the misuse of the SSNs of living individuals (all the other categories in the chart above and representing the other 98% of the cases) nor SSNS of deceased individuals from compromised medical records.

Comparable 2012 data should give some measure of the effectiveness of the IRS improved filters.  The IRS should be directed to report to the Congress data that would provide a basis for measuring the extent of improvement in their screening filters and other measures to they are taking to deter fraudulent tax refunds involving identity theft.  Hopefully even this relatively small incidence of fraudulent use of deceased SSNs will be further reduced.

Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Taxpayer Advocate Service are reporting a significant increase (doubling?) in complaints of fraudulent tax returns involving identity theft.  We should be concerned that final 2012 data will show a dramatic increase in cases impacting the living.


Several additional posts addressing additional aspects of this topic are anticipated, including:

Part 5 – DMF Paradigm – Lessons Learned As Stakeholders Speak

Part 6 – DMF Paradigm — Suggested Paradigm Shifts

Part 7 — DMF Paradigm — Access, Preservation or Replacement Issue?

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Part 3 – DMF Paradigm – Countermeasures Taken

The previous articles in this series are found at:

Part 1 —  http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2015/01/09/the-death-master-file-paradigm-introduction/

Part 2 — http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2015/01/21/dmf-paradigm-part-2-what-we-thought-we-knew-in-2011/

Changes on Genealogical Websites

As the tax filing season opened in early 2011, the SSDI was freely accessible by the general public from a number of web sites, to include most of the major sites serving the genealogical community without requiring a subscription or login.  Several Senators, including members of the Senate Finance Committee, voiced their concerns in a December 1, 2011 letter addressed to the CEO of Ancestry.com Inc.12-1-11 Ancestry.com – Tim Sullivan and asked that they and other genealogical sites remove SSNs from their posting of the SSDI.  http://www.brown.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/after-call-from-sen-brown-ancestrycom-removes-social-security-numbers-from-website-to-prevent-fraud

Ancestry.com and other genealogical web sites immediately took measures designed to prevent the abuse of their resources by thieves.  In addition to putting this data behind their subscription pay wall, Ancestry chose to conceal the SSN of the deceased for a period of time, even for their subscribers.  Other genealogical sites took similar measures. http://www.abc2news.com/dpp/news/local_news/investigations/website-stops-displaying-social-security-numbers-for-recently-dead


And the IRS Improves Their Use of Filters

Although we do not expect the Internal Revenue Service to describe in detail the use and coverage of their filters, it was clear that in CY 2011, their very limited review of TY 2010 returns claiming a refund did not use the DMF to flag returns for further scrutiny.

For Tax Year 2012, the information provided by the witnesses at the April 16, 2013 Senate Finance Committee hearing entitled “Tax Fraud and Tax ID Theft:  Moving Forward with Solutions” gave multiple reasons to be encouraged by the actions being taken to combat refund fraud and help victims of identity theft.  Their written statements are available at:  http://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=62739085-5056-a032-5281-4500bf4d4fb3  The testimony of Steven T. Miller, Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service described a number of significant steps they have taken including (1)  much improved screening filters “to spot false returns before we process them and issue refunds”, (2)  expanded criminal investigations, and (3)  prosecution of the perpetrators.

Appropriate prosecution and sentencing of those perpetrating tax fraud related to identity theft has the potential of not only thwarting their predations but should serve as a deterrent to others tempted to follow their example.  This begins to look like progress.


Several additional posts addressing additional aspects of this topic are anticipated, including:

Part 4 – DMF Paradigm –  Analysis Begins

Part 5 – DMF Paradigm – Lessons Learned As Stakeholders Speak

Part 6 – DMF Paradigm — Suggested Paradigm Shifts

Part 7 — DMF Paradigm — Access, Preservation or Replacement Issue?


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RPAC at FGS/RootsTech 2015

Access to Vital Records is Under Attack! How Can You Help?

Thursday, 12 February 2015, Session T221, 4:30 p.m., Room 255A

Vital records are being threatened at both the state and federal level. Learn about the 2011 Revision of the Model State Vital Statistics Act, which if passed in your state will close access to birth records for 125 years and death records for 75 years.

Also learn about how the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act signed at the end of 2013 has limited access to the Social Security Death Index for three years after someone’s death. Although the Interim Rule allowed forensic genealogists to become certified for access to the Limited Death Master File during the embargo period, the proposed final rule increases the costs and security requirements making access prohibitive for a small business which includes forensic and professional genealogists.

Attend session T 221 and learn how the genealogical community has responded to these attacks and how you can help.

RPAC has initiated a “Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights” advocating open access to federal, state, and local public records. More than 5,000 genealogists have signed online at http://bit.ly/gen-declaration or at conferences and other gatherings of genealogists. Stop by the RPAC Booth #1115 and sign the Declaration in the Exhibit Hall.  For more detail see our previous blog post at:  http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2014/11/06/genealogists-declaration-of-rights-we-need-your-support/

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ALERT — Proposed Major Cuts to the Indiana State Library Budget

Indiana State Library

With a more than $2 billion state budget surplus, the  2015 state budget proposed by the administration provides for  a 25% cut to the Indiana State Library’s funding.  This proposal specifically targets cuts against state-wide access to informational and educational databases and would eliminate the Genealogy Department.  It would reduce the Library staff by 10%.

The Indiana Genealogical Society seeks our help in a blog post found at:  http://indgensoc.blogspot.com/2015/01/proposed-elimination-of-genealogy-at.html .

RPAC will monitor these developments and perhaps suggest additional measures in coordination with the efforts of the Indiana Genealogical Society.  In the meantime, we encourage that all concerned about these issues give consideration to signing the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2014/11/06/genealogists-declaration-of-rights-we-need-your-support/

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DMF Paradigm — Part 2 — What We Thought We Knew in 2011

The previous article in this series is found at:

Part 1 — http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2015/01/09/the-death-master-file-paradigm-introduction/

Readers are encouraged to review the earlier article, beginning with the Introductory Video by Stephen Covey.

When fraudulent tax returns filed by identity thieves using the social security numbers of recently deceased children broke into the headlines in 2011, data was simply not available for analysis that would help define how thieves were doing business nor the magnitude of the problem.  Only after both legitimate and questionable returns had been resolved by the Internal Revenue Service, a process frequently requiring more than a year to complete, would that information become available.

Early Congressional hearings highlighting these despicable acts reflected the limited knowledge available.  The hearing held by the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee on the 2nd of February 2012 is among the most notable.  It has prompted several postings in this RPAC Blog. The one at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2012/02/12/ssdi-their-vision-of-our-future/  links to the official video of the proceedings that is also recommended for viewing by every genealogist using the Social Security Death Index.

Social Security Administration Commissioner Astrue initially appears as a one-person panel for the first thirty minutes of the hearing, the video for which is found at:  http://waysandmeans.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=133    In testimony beginning near minute 26, Commissioner Astrue suggests as a possible approach being considered by the Administration that genealogists perhaps could wait for up to 75 years to have access to the DMF file data.  He also suggests that genealogists can gain access to the data we need from alternative sources.  A snippet of this testimony is found at:  http://youtu.be/HuSVZvMmN5A .

Jonathan Agin’s initial testimony begins after Chairman Johnson introduces the public panel at approximately 34 minutes into the proceedings.  While answering questions at 1:00, Mr. Agin  speculates that his thief got his daughter’s SSN from the DMF/SSDI  and opines about who REALLY needs access to the DMF at 1:03.

His role also demonstrates the power of labels and creating the narrative surrounding how an issue is initially presented.  “Social Security Fraud” will find a sympathetic audience before a subcommittee whose jurisdictional limits provides oversight for the SSA.  Addressing “tax refund fraud by identity theft” would have required the involvement of a different congressional forum.  Thus the proposed remedy became the closing of the DMF without addressing the incredible vulnerability of the IRS online filing system.  Jurisdictional sensitivities also provide a somewhat more “innocent” explanation of why our offers to provide a genealogical witness for this hearing were so pointedly rebuffed.

Flowing from this hearing the following narrative emerges:

  1. The DMF/SSDI was a substantial source of the SSNs used in filing fraudulent tax returns.
  2. SSNs of deceased individuals need to be protected in the same ways we seek to safeguard those of the living.
  3. Simple fix available (Silver Bullet?):  Just limit access to the DMF/SSDI.
  4. Unstated assumption:  Nothing would be lost by closing this resource.


This narrative would become the paradigm driving Congressional attention and numerous legislative proposals to include the only one to  be enacted thus far, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.


Several additional posts addressing additional aspects of this topic are anticipated, including:

Part 3 – DMF Paradigm – Countermeasures Taken

Part 4 – DMF Paradigm –  Analysis Begins

Part 5 – DMF Paradigm – Lessons Learned As Stakeholders Speak

Part 6 – DMF Paradigm — Suggested Paradigm Shifts

Part 7 — DMF Paradigm — Access, Preservation or Replacement Issue?

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