Budget Bill Includes the Access Limitations for Death Master File/SSDI

With thanks to Jan Meisels Allen,

The Bipartisan Budget Bill 2014 includes a revenue –generating provision that limits access to the Death Master File/Social Security Death Index. The provisions are identical to bills IAJGS and the genealogical community have been opposing in submitted statements to the US Congress for several years as there are no provisions to permit genealogists to have immediate access nor the special categories of genealogists that the genealogical community have agreed are to be given immediate access while the rest of us may wait a few years. The budget bill includes penalties for violations $1,000 per violations with  a cap of $250,000 per person violator which is included in the revenue generating provisions.


The access restrictions to the Death Master File as stated in the bipartisan budget bill are for three years from date of death.  Those certified by the Secretary of Commerce  who have immediate access are listed to have legitimate fraud prevention interest or a legitimate business purpose pursuant to law governmental rule regulation or fiduciary duty and has systems, facilities, and procedures in place to safeguard such information, and experience in maintaining the confidentiality, security, and appropriate use of such information,


To read the bipartisan budget bill which is currently being debated in both the House and Senate see: http://tinyurl.com/kpksqp4  Go to section 203 starting on page 32 through page 37 to read the restrictions.

Original url:

To read about the proposed revenue generation based on penalties go to:  http://tinyurl.com/mu5gbjd

Original url:

http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/Bipartisan%20Budget%20Act%20of%202013.pdf     See pages 9 and 10


Thank you to Sharon Sergeant of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council for alerting us to this new threat for genealogists access to the Death Master File/Social Security Death File.

Jan Meisels Allen

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Stay tuned.  Much more to come!




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Founding RPAC Member Joy Reisinger, RIP

With thanks to Linda McCleary for bringing this news to our attention:

BCG Springboard:  News and Notes has posted a new item, “Former BCG Vice President Joy Reisinger, RIP”

Guest post by the Rev. David McDonald, CGSM

It is my sad duty to report that Joy Reisinger, Certified Genealogist Emeritus died early Tuesday morning, 10 December 2013, in her hometown of Sparta, Wisconsin.  A past trustee and vice president of the Board, Joy also served as conference program co-chair for the NGS conferences at Saint Paul and Milwaukee. . . .

You may view the full BCG  post at:


Our friend and colleague will be missed.



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DDP Anniversary — ECPA Reform Day of Action — Updated 12 December

It has now been a year since the Records Preservation and Access Committee joined the Digital Due Process Coalition in the hope of injecting the interests of the genealogical community into the dialogue being conducted in Washington DC.  Far too often we had previously observed a tendency to address privacy concerns with a reflexive tendency to simply close access to the records we need.  We announced that affiliation in a blog post on 2 December 2012 found here:  http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2012/12/02/ssdi-the-search-for-allies/


A number of our colleagues in the DDP Coalition (and other enterprises) last Thursday , the 5th of December, joined a nationwide day of action calling for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) [http://www.digital4th.org/petition.html], the law that says the government can access your email and documents in the cloud without a warrant.

The announcement of this effort continued:

“ECPA is one of the Internet’s most outdated laws – it was enacted in 1986, before most people had access to a home computer or email. While the public has been rightfully outraged over reports that the NSA accesses communications without a warrant, ECPA says that hundreds of other government agencies—like the IRS, FBI, and DEA, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies—can access many of our stored emails, private social media messages, and documents in the cloud without getting a warrant from a judge. The law flies directly in the face of our Fourth Amendment values; in fact, many companies have fought back and now demand warrants before turning over customers’ communications.


Bills to reform ECPA have gained huge support in recent months from both parties in Congress. However, legislation is now being blocked by a proposal from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is pushing for a special carve-out for regulatory agencies to get your documents from online providers without a warrant. The SEC carve-out would neuter ECPA reform.


That’s why we’re calling on the White House to break its silence and stand up for ECPA reform. We need President Obama to tell the SEC to back down in its demands for troubling new powers and make clear that the time for ECPA reform is now.


Today we ask you join us by signing this petition to the White House [http://www.digital4th.org/petition.html]. It’s time for the President to join tech companies, startups, advocates, and Members of Congress by supporting this commonsense, long overdue reform to ensure our privacy rights online.”

Update:  12 December–As of early this morning, the number of signers of the petition had exceeded the 100K threshold required to trigger a formal response from the Administration.  Over 30 thousand signatures were garnered in the last two days, an astounding feat!

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Maine Vital Records Regulations — Call for Input

Most of the posts to this blog involve statutory threats to our access to the records we need.  The development of the regulations implementing these statutes give reason for continuing concern about our access and may provide an additional opportunity for the genealogical community to influence the outcome.

With thanks to Helen Shaw, the President of the Maine Genealogical Society (and the RPAC State Liaison) we have such an opportunity at this time.  Helen will be coordinating the position of the genealogical community to be presented to authorities in Maine by the 12th of December.

The attachments to which she refers are found here:

ODRVS rules chapter 4

ODRVS rules chapter 8

DHHS revised rules

In her words:

“Last Friday I, and other members of the vital records stakeholders group, received an e-mail from Theresa Roberts, the rule making coordinator for Data, Research, and Vital Statistics, with the draft revision of the rules for accessing vital records. Stakeholders have until December 12 to submit comments on the draft. A meeting of the group is scheduled for December 12, but the location is not yet set.

Basically what Theresa has done is combine the old rule chapters 4 & 8 into one document. I have attached as pdfs the draft revision and copies of the original chapters 4 & 8. I have only had time to do a quick read through the draft and have already contacted Theresa on some issues. I do think that many parts of chapter 4 have been deleted to the detriment of genealogists, but need to confirm that by comparing the original chapters with the revision.

I would like to have your input on these rules. You all will be my second set of eyes. If you have any chapter meetings coming up, please discuss this issue and pass on any suggestions to me.

I would also like to hear about folks’ problems with accessing vital records over the past 2 years, both at town offices and at the state vital records office. I would also like to hear about how often folks access vital records, again at both the town and state level: are they going in occasionally for themselves or clients; are they looking for one record or many, one surname or many; are they allowed to look at indexes or must they always ask a clerk to look up a record; are they charged a fee — if yes, how much.  It would be most helpful if I could have this information before the December 12 meeting. Folks can e-mail me directly or, for chapters, you can collect the responses and send them as a group.

Thanks for your help. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


Helen Shaw <hashaw@earthlink.net>

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EU Data Protection Regulation — 7 Oct Meeting of Ministries of Justice

With thanks to Jan Meisels Allen, IAJGS Vice President updating our RPAC post of  2 September 2013

I have previously written about the European Union’s proposed Data Privacy Regulation and the concerns of the genealogical community with the potential for loss of access to records of genealogical value. On October 7 the Ministries for Justice and Home Affairs of the 28 Member States of the European Union met in Luxembourg to further discuss the proposed regulation.  The Ministers were unable to agree on a particular key provision—known as the “one stop shop” principle which resulted in a further postponement of discussion and possible vote until December.  To read the proposed regulation see: http://tinyurl.com/6rzj4se

Original url:


The ‘one stop shop” principle, Chapter IV of the draft regulation, would change the current rule that requires multinationals processing personal data established in several EU member countries  to comply with the local requirements of each jurisdiction. The proposal would instead have a supervisory authority of the “main” establishment be in control. The concern by some of the EU countries is that the there is a potential for “forum shopping” going to the jurisdiction offering the lowest level of protection.  While this is not an issue that directly affects genealogists, the fact that the proposed regulation vote has been postponed for the fourth time is of interest to us.  In May 2014 there will be elections and a new European Union Council will be seated, which may affect the decision-making about this proposed regulation.  Once a regulation is adopted by the European Union, then all of the EU member countries are required to comply with the uniform regulation.

To read about the  October 7 meeting see: http://tinyurl.com/kafk9om

Original url: http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=9ed30a80-1069-4265-9846-04e6f6f1de24

Jan Meisels Allen

IAJGS Vice President

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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Records Access on Extreme Genes Radio

Records access has been a significant topic at the major genealogical conferences this year sponsored by RootsTech, the National Genealogical Society, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, the Federation of Genealogical Societies among others.

It was also a topic addressed on an early session of a new offering from longtime Salt Lake City radio personality Scott Fisher who has created a new radio show and website (Extremegenes.com) which he suggests is “Like a ‘Drudge Report’ for family history news.”  http://extremegenes.com/ep-04-politicians-are-looking-to-limit-access-to-vital-records/  

During my appearance as a guest in August, we discussed ongoing efforts to dismantle the Social Security Death Index and further limit access to vital records.

Fisher’s vision for “Extreme Genes: Family History Radio” is more fully described in a recent newspaper article found at:  http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865586216/New-radio-show-website-aimed-at-showing-fun-side-of-family-history.html?pg=1  

He promises to share amusing and interesting family history stories, a welcome addition to our community’s effort to explain why we do family history and how society benefits from our labors.

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European Union Proposed Data Protection Regulation — Updated

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) has weighed in on the European Union Proposed Data Protection Regulation with a letter addressed to each of the Ministers of Justice of all of the current 28 European Union member Countries.  With thanks to Jan Meisels Allen, IAJGS Vice President and RPAC member:

IAJGS letter re EU Proposed Data Protection Regulations: EU Data Protection Letter UK-1

Jan addressed this topic at some length during the RPAC Session at the FGS Annual Conference held last month in Fort Wayne.

You may have previously seen the following reports reflecting concern that proposed Draft European Union Data Protection Regulations could adversely impact genealogical access:



More recently, European Archivists have also expressed their concerns that the proposed Data Protection Regulation really means a heavy attack at the future of genealogical and historical research in Europe. The Greece, German, Polish, Norway and Italian associations of archivists have already protested (see the attached link: https://www.change.org/petitions/the-european-parliament-adjourn-the-adoption-of-the-regulation-about-personal-data?utm_campaign=action_box&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition#share


In addition to the IAJGS letters to all 28 European Union member countries, RPAC letters were sent to the appropriate representatives of England and Germany similar to the following:

RPAC Letter to Minister Albrecht

Much more to come.



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RPAC at FGS Ft. Wayne — Updated 15 September

Once again records access issues will be a significant topic at a major genealogical conference.

RPAC Committee, State Liaisons, State Genealogy Society Presidents, and others interested in current threats to vital records, are encouraged to join us for the RPAC Presentation at FGS, Wednesday, 21 August 2013, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. For those attending the FGS Conference next week in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Session W106 is titled “Strategies for Protecting Access to State Vital Records.”    Slides for this presentation [RPACatFGS2013] are found on the Publications Page of this blog:  http://www.fgs.org/rpac/publications/  .  A recording of this session can be ordered from www.fleetwoodonsite.com/fgs  as Item #21585.  Note– The presenters for this session have chosen to donate any royalties from this recording to the FGS Preserve the Pensions Project to digitize the War of 1812 pension files.

Hear representatives of the Records Preservation and Access Committee discuss:

  • What is RPAC, who participates, and how does RPAC respond to threats against access to vital records?
  • How the draft 2011 Model Vital Statistics Act may extend the time vital records are closed to the public
  • Actions being considered by the European Union which would limit access to vital records in EU countries
  • A review of several bills pending in the US Congress which will limit or close access to the Social Security Death Index
  • Learn how you can help protect access to vital records by visiting and writing your state and federal representatives.

And on Friday the 23rd of August, The Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell will offer her insights on the topic of

Roadblocks, Red Lights and Detours: Records Access Issues

Session F-328, Friday 2:00-3:00 PM

In her words:

”  This was supposed to be the Age of the Information Superhighway. Physical access to courthouses and archives, coupled with massive digitization projects and easy availability of Internet access, should have made this a genealogist’s dream: a time when everybody had access to just about any kind of information residing anywhere. It hasn’t worked out quite that way. Even as so many records are becoming so much more accessible as they come online, doors are being slammed shut on so many more — often records that aren’t and won’t be online, now and perhaps ever.”

Join us in Ft. Wayne!.

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Identity Theft Related Tax Fraud at the IRS — Hearing Friday 2 August — updated

The Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing  in Room 2247 RHOB at 9:00am EDT, Friday the 2nd of August 2013 entitled: “Examining the Skyrocketing Problem of Identity Theft Related Tax Fraud at the IRS.”


To watch the hearing live (and possibly later) we are instructed to go to the committee calendar page at http://oversight.house.gov/calendar/      

I was unable to call up the streaming video at the announced time but am advised that the hearing is in recess and  will be seen upon the completion of a floor vote..  The press release and witness statements have been posted as anticipated.

More to come.

Updated 10 August–  The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) has submitted  the attached  Statement for the Record for this hearing in response to an invitation from the committee.  Final statement SSDI House Oversight Committee Aug 2013

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2013 State Legislative Accomplishments

With thanks to Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair:

As the legislative year draws to a close in most states, it is a good time to assess its impact on genealogists. RPAC, member organizations, and concerned genealogists wrote letters to appropriate legislators, committee chairs, and governors. We are pleased to report that—when the genealogical community became aware of an issue and responded—we had a favorable impact on legislation. Record closures were averted or remained unchanged in several states.


As we reported in March, a Working Group consisting of state and local vital statistics executives and one lawyer, drafted the 2011 Revision of the Model Vital Statistics Act which extends the closure periods for access to vital records 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.  You can read the proposed 2011 Model Act at 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. Impatient for its DHHS approval, the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) endorsed the Model act in 2011. Frustrated by the delay in approval at the federal level, several state vital records officials introduced the 2011 Model Act in their state legislatures.

  • Oklahoma was the first state to approve the revised Model Act, which remained unnoticed until early 2013 when the new procedures for accessing vital records were implemented.
  • Washington: RPAC first heard about the 2011 Model Act being introduced at an administrative committee in Washington State early in 2013. Genealogists immediately became involved and the issue never made it out of the committee.
  • Texas: The 2011 Model Act was introduced in the Texas state legislature. The Texas genealogical community testified against the bill and it again died in committee, in part because the vital records officers were unable to present any compelling reasons to extend the closure dates for accessing vital records.
  • Oregon: The 2011 Model Vital Statistics Act was introduced in Oregon. Although other provisions of the bill passed, there was no change to the existing vital records closure periods. In the hearings Mitch Greenlick, chair of the House Health Care Committee, commented about the volume of responses against the Act from genealogists.


After the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, the Town Clerk initiated legislation to close access to death records that have been public and open records since the earliest settlement of the state. Again after testimony by several genealogical organizations and letters from many organizations, including RPAC and the press, the legislation died on the floor. Another bill which passed at the last minute and mostly impacts the press, authorizes police to withhold crime scene photographs and 911 audio recordings where the individual speaking describes the condition of a homicide victim.


California also had a last-minute trailer bill tacked on to the budget, which would have made the delivery of documents by county and town officials optional. We were not quite sure if this bill included documents for which the requestor paid a fee such as copies of vital records and deeds, or whether it applied to requests for copies of administrative meeting minutes.  The press and genealogy organizations, including RPAC, wrote letters objecting to the legislation. As a result the Governor vetoed the bill and a replacement bill was passed and signed without this objectionable provision.


In addition to the above, RPAC also wrote the Governor of Georgia and several of the Georgia Senate and House committee chairs, objecting to the severe cuts to the Georgia Archives budget. As a result of several months of activities by the Georgia Genealogical Society, supported by RPAC, partial funding was restored and the Archives were transferred from the Secretary of State to the Georgia University System.


Action Steps: We expect the 2011 Model Vital Statistics Act to be introduced in many more states in the next legislative sessions. We also need to be alert to the possibility that some of the provisions may be introduced as state regulations.  We encourage the president of each State Genealogical Society and the APG Chapter President to visit with the chairman of the House and/or Senate Health Services Committee in your state before any legislation is introduced. Educate them on the importance of family history and especially family health history that requires timely access to death records.  Genealogists recognize there are many beneficial reasons to update the Model Act, but the provisions extending the closure periods for access to vital records are not necessary and will have a detrimental effect. To date the Model Act proponents have been unable to present any compelling reasons to extend the closure periods limiting access to vital records.


RPAC would appreciate hearing about the results of any legislative visits at access@fgs.org. Also let RPAC know any way we can help support your efforts.


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