RPAC Alert — 2011 Revision of Model State Vital Statistics Act

Background: Many state vital records registrars have been operating since 1992 under state legislation based on the last approved Model State Vital Statistics Act which includes restrictions on access to birth records for 100 years and death, marriage, and divorce records for 50 years. The Model State Vital Statistics Act was developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a US government agency under the Department of Health and Human Services. The 1992 Model Act currently in effect, may be read at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/misc/mvsact92b.pdf

A Working Group, consisting primarily of state and local vital statistics executives, was formed in 2009 to update the Model Act and after distributing a draft to vital records officers for comments in 2011, reported out their work as the 2011 Revision in May 2011. The draft was not distributed to the genealogical community for comments. In June 2011 the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) endorsed the 2011 Revision of the Model State Vital Statistics Act and Regulations and encouraged state vital registration executives to introduce legislation which supported the 2011 Draft Revision. The proposed Model Act extends the closure periods to 125 years after the date of a live birth, 75 years after the date of death, or 100 years after the date of marriage or divorce.  RPAC has responded to each state initiative when we were notified of pending legislation. You can read the proposed 2011 Model Act http://www.naphsis.org/about/Documents/FinalMODELLAWSeptember72011.pdf

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put the 2011 Revision “on hold” in April 2012. RPAC has contacted the Department of Health and Human Services and requested that prior to adoption, the proposed 2011 Revised Model Act should be made available for public review and comment.

Action Steps: Recently we have seen bills introduced in several states in which the language used may have been suggested by the 2011 Revision and we fear more restrictive vital records legislation may be introduced in additional states during the current legislative sessions.  Bills may be introduced under the guise of “privacy” legislation. If you learn of any pending “vital records” legislation in your state, please notify RPAC immediately at access@fgs.org. Also visit the RPAC website at www.FGS.org/RPAC and review the “State Tool Kit for State Liaisons” developed by Jan Meisels Allen on how to contact your state legislators. It is important for genealogists to write their legislators and request that their leaders be asked to testify at hearings. The states do not have to follow the 2011 Revised Model Act, so based upon the existing closure periods, you have an opportunity to influence the outcome.

RPAC is a joint committee of FGS, NGS, and IAJGS as voting members. The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen), and the American Society of Genealogists (ASG) also serve as participating members. By invitation, RPAC also includes participation from a few commercial providers of genealogical information. RPAC meets monthly to inform and advise the genealogical community on ensuring proper access to vital records and on supporting strong records preservation policies and practices at the federal, state, and occasionally the local level.

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Another Bill Introduced Regarding Identity Theft HR 926

With thanks to Jan Meisels Allen and Ken Ryesky, the IAJGS representatives to RPAC:

HR 926,  introduced by Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), co-sponsored by John Duncan Jr. (R-TN), Walter Jones (R-NC) and Michael Grimm (R-NY) is the fourth bill so far addressing identity theft but does NOT address the commercial version of the Death Master File known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

HR 926 is entitled, “Social Security Identity Defense Act of 2013”.  This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code relative to information regarding disclosure that would affect identity theft such as a fraudulent use of a social security number, including that used in employment. It provides: requirements to notify the person whose Social Security number is being fraudulently used;  sanctions against employers who knowingly use the fraudulent Social Security Numbers;  and establishes a process for reporting misuse of Social Security numbers to the FBI and other government agencies.  To read the bill see: http://tinyurl.com/bhr88ze

Original url:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr926ih/pdf/BILLS-113hr926ih.pdf

Thank you to Ken Ryesky, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee member for alerting us to this bill.  It is worth monitoring as bills do get amended in committee.

Jan Meisels Allen

IAJGS Vice President

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

 

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SSDI — Another Bill Limiting Access — HR 531

With thanks to Jan Meisels Allen, our IAJGS representative:

The third bill addressing access to the Death Master File (commercial version known as the Social Security Death Index) was introduced in Congress on February 6 by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL). It is HR 531 entitled: “Tax Crimes and Identity Theft Prevention”.  The co-sponsor of the bill is Rep. Richard Nugent ( R-FL) who is the author of HR 295 which was previously reported to this forum. HR 531 was referred to both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Committee on the Judiciary.

The issue of most interest to genealogists is Section 12 where access to the Death Master File is addressed.  The Section would not permit the Secretary of Commerce to disclose information on anyone included in the DMF regarding a person who died in that calendar year or the succeeding year unless the person is certified by the Secretary of Commerce.  To be certified the person has to have a” legitimate fraud prevention interest” in accessing the information and legitimate fraud prevention interest is not defined,

These are similar to the provisions in Rep Nugent’s bill HR 295). Monetary penalties are imposed for violations. As with the other bills, the Secretary of Commerce is “not compelled” to disclose the information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The printed version of the bill was posted today. To read the bill go to: http://tinyurl.com/cbfad7n

Original url:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr531ih/pdf/BILLS-113hr531ih.pdf

 

Other provisions of HR 531:

Once someone notifies the Secretary of the Treasury that their identity has been misused by another person in relation to IRS laws they Secretary has 90 days to determine the extent the taxpayer’s return and information were misused.

Permits sharing of information between federal law enforcement with state or local enforcement agencies who are engaged in the investigation of crimes implicated in misuse of the information and the law enforcement agency must be part of the team with the IRS in the investigation,

Establishes both monetary and imprisonment for using false identity in connection with tax fraud. Also increases the penalties for improper disclosure or use of information by tax preparers.

Requires the implementation by the Secretary of the Treasury of an identity tax theft fraud prevention program—a PIN system, as well as establishing additional triggers to prevent fraudulent tax refunds. An annual report on tax fraud submitted to Congress is required. The bill also authorizes a study on the use of prepaid debit cards and commercial tax preparation fraud.

Permits the Attorney General to award grants for investigation and prosecution of tax crimes.

We are expecting more bills addressing identity theft and access to the Death Master File to be introduced in this Congressional session.

 

Jan Meisels Allen

IAJGS Vice President

IAJGS Chairperson, Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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SSDI — Another Bill limiting access — HR 466

With thanks to our IAJGS Representative, Jan Meisels Allen:

The second bill addressing access to the Death Master File and the commercial version known as the Social Security Death Index was introduced in Congress on February 4.  The printed version is now available from the Government Printing Office see:http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr466ih/pdf/BILLS-113hr466ih.pdf .

HR 466 was introduced by Congressman Capuano (D-MA) and is called: ‘‘Social Security Death Master File Privacy Act of 2013”.  At the time of introduction there were no co-sponsors.  The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. At this time no hearings are scheduled.  We are expecting more bills to be introduced that affect access to the SSDI and the genealogists/public access to Social Security numbers of deceased individuals.  To monitor the actions on this bill go to: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c113:H.R.466

HR 466 prohibits the Commissioner of Social Security from publishing the death master file or any public database that includes the Social Security numbers of any deceased individual.  The bill permits the Commissioner to share information with the appropriate federal or state agency which pays federally funded  benefits regarding the deceased. The bill also states the Commissioner would not be compelled to release the information under the provisions of providing information to the public-Freedom of Information Act  (http://www.fdic.gov/regulations/laws/rules/8000-300.html)

More are likely to follow.  We will post as the text of the bills become available.

 

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Genealogists and Privacy Advocates before the US Supreme Court

On February 7, 2013 the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) joined with 18 national privacy, civil liberties and consumer organizations on an amicus brief in support of a petition for a Writ of Certiorari filed with the US Supreme Court in Jennings v. Broome, an important e-mail privacy case.

A digital version of the brief is available at http://epic.org/amicus/ecpa/jennings/12-831-EPIC-Amicus-Brief.pdf.  Additional information about the case is found at http://epic.org/amicus/ecpa/jennings/.

RPAC joined the Digital Due Process Coalition last fall anticipating that this affiliation would afford an opportunity to become participants in discussions in which issues of interest to the genealogical community were being hammered out.   The RPAC Blog entry for 2 Dec at www.fgs.org/rpac  gives additional rationale.  For the past two years, the principal focus of the Coalition has been to encourage the Congress to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to reflect evolving technologies.   All members of the coalition have agreed to the basic principles outlined on the coalition website at www.digitaldueprocess.org .

In the meantime, cases interpreting the 1986 version of ECPA have been percolating through the courts.  Lower courts have diverged in interpreting the legacy ECPA language (including the Stored Communications Act) with some protecting the privacy of personal emails and another exposing them to scrutiny.  The Supreme Court of the United States could resolve the divergence of opinions in the lower courts by accepting an appeal from the ruling of the South Carolina Supreme Court in the case of Jennings v. Broome but they are not required to do so. The losing party in that case is asking the US Supreme Court to take the appeal through the procedure of filing a Petition For A Writ of Certiorari.

May the long-neglected discussion among genealogists, technologists, and privacy advocates build on this small piece of common ground.

Stay tuned.

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Georgia Archives — RPAC Letter to Governor Deal

GeorgiaArchives 28 Jan 2013

RPAC continues to monitor developments surrounding  the future of the Georgia Archives.  The link above takes the reader to a letter recently addressed to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal in which we express appreciation for efforts to preserve a resource the genealogical community views as a national treasure.  We urge continued efforts to find fair funding for the Archives.

More to come.

 

 

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New Congress– More to Come! — HR 295

With thanks to our IAJGS representatives, Jan Meisels Allen and Ken Ryesky

 

Legislation that was not signed into law before last year’s Congressional session ended has died. In the just ended Congressional session 2011-2012, we saw several bills introduced and hearings held in both the House and Senate on identity theft where the genealogical community was considered one of the “culprits” for accessing the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) the commercial version of the Death Master File (DMF).

 

The new Congressional session has begun ( 2013-2014). The first bill regarding identity theft and the Social Security Death Index was introduced on January 15, 2013 by Representative Richard Nugent (R-FL  11th district)  HR 295- and was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. Representative Nugent was a sponsor and cosponsor on several of the bills introduced last session that addressed identity theft and the SSDI/DMF.  At the time of this posting,  there are no cosponsors nor are there any hearings scheduled.  The bill is called: “ Protect and Save Act of 2013”.  You can read the bill by clicking on this pdf:  http://tinyurl.com/al3pb4y

 

Original url:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr295ih/pdf/BILLS-113hr295ih.pdf

 

The provisions of greatest concern to the genealogical community include Section 7 (page 7 of the above-referenced pdf): “Restriction On Access to the Death Master File”. Here , the Secretary of Commerce is prohibited from disclosing any information contained in the DMF regarding any individual who died in the previous two calendar years unless the person is certified under a specific program where the person has a” legitimate fraud prevention interest” in accessing the information described in the DMF.  There is no definition of what a “legitimate fraud prevention interest” is and any one violating this provision is subject to substantial monetary penalties. This bill also provides an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the Social Security Administration as they would not be compelled to disclose information to someone who is not certified under this provision of the bill.

 

Other provisions of the bill include: identity theft as a result of filing a fraudulent tax return, working cooperatively between federal, state and local law officials with limitations on who may obtain and share information regarding tax fraud and identity theft, implementation of a fraud deterrent process using a personal identification number (PIN) on their  annual tax filings for those who have been victims of identity theft , a study on identity theft due to prepaid debit cards and commercial tax preparation software in tax fraud, a study on electronic filing of tax returns in tax fraud.

 

Many of the items included in the bill resulted from testimonies in last session’s hearings-to which IAJGS submitted statements regarding the genealogical impact on some of these provisions and provided a proposed solution adopted by the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) of which IAJGS is a voting member– for certain types of forensic genealogists and certain types of certified genealogists ) to be exempt for any waiting period and  2-3 years wait for all others . IAJGS submitted suggestions on certification for genealogists such as those-certified by the Board of Certified Genealogists (BCG)  or ICAPGen (International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists). Based on this initial version of HR 295, it  appears  not include the genealogical community’s proposal.

 

Congressman Dave Kemp (R- MI 4th district) was reappointed as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) was reappointed as chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security which will probably be one of the subcommittees under the House Ways and Means Committee that will have jurisdiction and hold hearings. Congressman Nugent does not appear to be a member serving on the House Ways and Means Committee-at least at this time.

 

Thank you to Ken Ryesky, Esq. IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee member for bringing this bill’s introduction to our attention. This bill and other bills addressing the same issue which may be introduced bear our watching.

 

 

Jan Meisels Allen

IAJGS Vice President

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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SSDI — The Search for Allies

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.

 

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House Oversight Committee 29 Nov Hearing: ID Theft and Tax Fraud

With thanks to Ken Ryesky:

Yesterday (29 November 2012), the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform held a hearing entitled “Identity Theft and Tax Fraud: Growing Problems for the Internal Revenue Service, Part 4.”  The webpage to the Hearing is at <http://oversight.house.gov/hearing/identity-theft-and-tax-fraud-growing-problems-for-the-internal-revenue-service-part-4/>, and has links to the testimony of the witnesses.

 

Beth Tucker, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support, stated that the IRS is “collaborating with the Social Security Administration and other parts of the Administration on a potential legislative change to the practice of routine release of the Death Master File.”

 

<http://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Tucker-Testimony.pdf>

 

The bad news is that the written statement of National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson includes a 3-page treatise on the Death Master File (aka SSDI) and why its access should be limited.   The good news is that, in reference to the financial and emotional tolls imposed upon grieving parents by perpetuators of the dead baby scam, Nina states that “Legislation could relieve survivors of [the] burden by simply delaying release of the information for several years.”  Not genealogical paradise, but a bit less draconian than prior stances Nina has taken.

 

<http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/nta_testimony_idtheft_112912.pdf> or <http://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Olson-Testimony.pdf>

More to come.

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Georgia Archives — Progress?

With thanks to Elizabeth Olson, RPAC Georgia State Liaison for calling this press release to our attention:

“Deal, Kemp to keep Georgia’s Archives open

 

October 18, 2012

Gov. Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced today that the state will restore $125,000 to Kemp’s budget to keep the Georgia State Archives open to Georgians for the remainder of the budget year.

“Georgia’s Archives are a showcase of our state’s rich history and a source of great pride,” said Deal. “I worked quickly with my budget office and Secretary Kemp to ensure that Georgians can continue to come to Morrow to study and view the important artifacts kept there. I appreciate Secretary Kemp’s commitment to work with me to find a solution.”

The extra funding provides for Georgia State Archives to be open to the public through June 30 of next year. On July 1,  the Georgia Archives will be transferred to University System of Georgia, pending approval of the move by the General Assembly. This transfer will include appropriations required for operation and assets of the Georgia Archives. Additional staff will be provided by USG at that time. Deal and Kemp intend to find efficiencies by consolidating the Archives under the University System of Georgia, just as the state has sought to do with the library system.

“From the beginning of this budget process, I have stated that it was my hope that current access to the Archives could be maintained,” Kemp said. “I greatly appreciate Governor Deal’s leadership and recognize the difficult decisions that had to be made in order to identify this funding. He has proposed a plan that supports Archives not just this year, but for years to come.”

Deal’s budgetary commitment allows Georgia State Archives to maintain its current access hours.”

Stay tuned for further developments.

 

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