RPAC at NGS Las Vegas this week– Wednesday the 8th of May

Records preservation and access issues will be addressed in at least three sessions at the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference in Las Vegas this week.

The APG Luncheon on Wednesday, the 8th of May, will feature Harold Henderson, CG addressing the topic “It’s not just SSDI:  How We Can Advocate for Geanealogy While Still Practicing It” in Ballroom C.

On Wednesday, the 8th of May, Melinde Lutz Burne will suggest that active advocacy is our only recourse in a world where public records document private lives. Her lecture entitled “Advocacy for Record Access” will be held in Ballroom F beginning at 2:30pm Pacific Daylight time.

Later in the afternoon, beginning at 4:00pm Pacific Daylight Time in Pavilion 6, three members of the Records Preservation and Access Committee will lead a discussion entitled “RPAC Strategies in a Changing Environment: Fraud Protection v. Access”. Access to genealogical information is under attack. Featuring Janet A. Alpert (new Chair of RPAC), Jan Meisels Allen (representative from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies), and Frederick E. Moss (legal advisor to FGS) we will survey recent challenges and suggest ways in which individual genealogist can become involved and make a difference.

If you are in Las Vegas, please join us. RPAC members and RPAC State Liaisons have been given instructions which can enable them to participate remotely. Contact access@fgs.org if you have any questions.

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Senate Finance Committee 16 April Hearing — Tax Fraud and Tax ID Theft

The information provided by the witnesses in this hearing give 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.

Of the multiple congressional hearings addressing the threat of tax fraud by identity theft, this is the first to suggest that real progress is being made.  By targeting the criminal through the use of appropriate filters, investigation and aggressive enforcement, the efforts of identity thieves are being thwarted.  Hopefully, by publicizing the results of successful prosecutions and the award of substantial penalties to the offenders, others may be deterred.

To the extent that the SSDI on genealogical websites was ever the source of compromised SSNs then used to file fraudulent tax refund claims, the responsible actions taken by those websites should have denied access to that information.  In fact, while it is only informed speculation on my part that we should have seen few, if any, fraudulent returns attributable to SSNs accessed from the SSDI during the filing season just ended, the IRS should eventually be able to statistically confirm that that vulnerability targeting the deceased has been closed.

In the March 20, 2012 hearing on this topic before a subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, RPAC and its sponsoring organizations indicated that while most genealogist could accommodate a three year delay before accessing the SSNs of recently deceased persons, there were several categories of genealogical research for which a three year delay would be problematic.  This topic is explored in the Statement for the Record submitted by IAJGS found at:  IAJGS Statement to Senate Finance Committee April 16 2013 Hearing Final

A careful review of the steps reportedly taken by the IRS, especially when coupled with the step taken by responsible genealogical entities historically hosting the SSDI on their sites,  suggests that tax fraud by this particular form of identity theft may no longer be the risk it was in 2011.  The need for statutory restrictions on access to the SSDI may have passed.

The RPAC Statement for the Record suggesting that conclusion is found at:  RPAC Statement for Record Senate Finance 16 April 2013 Final

The most significant vulnerability in the IRS on-line tax refund process has finally been identified. We should continue to be concerned that the SSNs of living persons will continue to be vulnerable so long as the IRS is mandated to expedite the payment of refund claims before they have even received information returns necessary to determine their validity.

This message is one we must share with our friends and elected representatives.

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SSDI — Another Bill Restricting Access — SB 676

With thanks to Jan Meisels Allan.

While the press release by Senator Nelson did not include mention of the DMF/SSDI- although his opening hearing comments did, the actual bill language is now published and it is much more extensive than what was included in the press release.


On April 9 Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced SB 676 along with Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Schumer (D-NY). The bill restricts access to the Death Master File–of which the Social Security Death Index is the commercial version. Title III of the bill restricts access for the year of death or two succeeding calendar years unless the person is certified under the program by the Secretary of Commerce. Persons who may be certified include legitimate interest in preventing fraud or unauthorized financial transactions, applicable law, regulation, court order, or fiduciary duty, facilitate administration of an insurance policy and credit reporting. There are no provisions for genealogists to be certified. The bill also permits the Social Security Administration not to be compelled to provide information on Social Security information to those who are not certified. The bill also calls for cessation of Social Security numbers on Medicare cards and Medicare correspondence and contains provisions on penalties for those who fraudulently use another’s  identity expedited refunds for fraud and abuse victims and more.


To read the bill go to: http://tinyurl.com/btf35vh




Jan Meisels Allen

IAJGS Vice President

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee



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Texas — Update Pending

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Oregon — Update Pending

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Washington State — Update Pending

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Oklahoma Surprises — Update pending

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Georgia Archives — Update Pending

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RootsTech Aftershocks — Update Pending

1. GenealogicalPrivacy.org

2. Review of Guidelines and Best Practices

3. What can 501(c)(3)’s Do?

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RPAC at RootsTech

With over 6700 attendees pre-registered for the event  held in Salt Lake City this past week,  the Third Annual version of the RootsTech Conference has become the largest genealogical conference held in the United States.

On each of the three days of the conference there was held at least one session addressing records access issues of interest to genealogists.

On Thursday, David Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer at Family Search and David Lifferth, Utah State Legislator discussed “Legal and Legislative Issues Facing Genealogists.”  A copy of their syllabus materials will be found here:  Legal_and_Legislative_Issues_Facing_Genealogists

Friday afternoon featured a well-attended  “Unconferencing “ session entitled  “Genealogists, Technologists, Privacy Advocates:  We REALLY need to talk!” which was moderated by prominent blogger Dick Eastman.  A spirited discussion followed introductory material presented by (1) Fred Moss, FGS Legal Advisor & RPAC  member, (2) J . Bradley Jansen, Director, Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights , and  (3) Jim Dempsey, Vice President for Public Policy, Center for Democracy & Technology.  One focus was the role that RPAC is playing since joining the Digital Due Process Coalition last November.   http://www.digitaldueprocess.org   Jansen announced the launch that day of a new blog site addressing genealogical privacy issues found at: http://www.genealogicalprivacy.org/   This site was added that evening to http://www.cyndislist.com/genealogy-website/privacy/articles/  by Cyndi Howells who also participated in this session.

The National Genealogical Society-sponsored luncheon on Saturday featured NGS President Jordan Jones addressing “Internet Privacy and Security: Follies and Foibles.”  The slides from his presentation are available at:  http://www.slideshare.net/genealogymedia

Much more to come. Stay tuned.

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