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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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

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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

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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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