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  Additional information about the case is found at

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  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 .

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:


Original url:


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 .  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: .

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 <>, 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.”




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.


<> or <>

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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Georgia to Close State Archives to the Public

With thanks to RPAC State Liaison Elizabeth Olson,  the Georgia Secretary of State published the following announcement on 13 September 2012:

Statement from Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Public Closure of the State Archives Effective November 1, 2012


The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626).  As it has been for the past two years, these cuts do not eliminate excess in the agency, but require the agency to further reduce services to the citizens of Georgia.  As an agency that returns over three times what is appropriated back to the general fund, budget cuts present very challenging decisions.  We have tried to protect the services that the agency provides in support of putting people to work, starting small businesses, and providing public safety.

To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public.  The decision to reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation.  To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state.  The staff that currently works to catalog, restore, and provide reference to the state of Georgia’s permanent historical records will be reduced.  The employees that will be let go through this process are assets to the state of Georgia and will be missed.  After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.

Since FY08, the Office of the Secretary of State has been required to absorb many budget reductions, often above the minimum, while being responsible for more work.  I believe that transparency and open access to records are necessary for the public to educate themselves on the issues of our government.  I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia.


Check back in coming days for suggestions as to appropriate responses from the genealogical community.

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National Archives Announces Increase in Copying Fees Nationwide

With thanks to Jan Meisels Allen for the alert and Linda McCleary for the summary:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will be raising copying charges for the second time this year. The last increase was May 2012. The new fee schedule will be effective 01 October 2012.

The following fee schedule shows the current pricing and the future charges.


Old Fee

New Fee

Self-service paper-to-paper copies (all NARA facilities)

$.20 and $.25


Self-service microfilm-to-paper copies



Self-service paper-to-paper copies – color



Self-service book-to-paper copies



Self-service photo to photo (DC region only)



Self-service video copying session with tape – additional video tape



NARA Reproduction Services
Minimum reproductions order



Paper-to-paper (or CD/DVD) (up to and including 11″ x 17″)



Color paper-to-paper



Microfilm or microfiche to paper



Paper to microfilm



Microfiche duplication,domestic shipping



Microfiche duplication, foreign shipping



Expedited shipping



Digitized/Digital NARA Reproduction Services
Basic digitized scan – up to 8 ½″ x 14″



Born-digital files, 10 or fewer files

$15.00 per file

$17.00 per file

Born-digital files, 11 or more files

$13.00 per file

$14.00 per file

Fixed-Fee Orders
NATF Form 81: Order for Copies of Ship Passenger Arrival Records



NATF Form 82: Order for Copies of Federal Census Records



NATF Form 83: Order for Copies of Eastern Cherokee Application Files



NATF Form 84: Order for Copies of Land Records



NATF Form 85: Order for Copies of Federal Pension or Land Warrant Applications
Full Pension Application File – Pre–Civil War
Full Pension Application File – Civil War and Later (up to 100 pages)
Full Pension Application File – (each additional page after 100)
Pension Documents Packet
Bounty Land Warrant Application


NATF Form 86: Order for Copies of Military Service Files $25.00


Accessioned Draft Registration Card (minimum reproductions order does not apply) $5.00


Accessioned Naturalization Record (minimum reproductions order does not apply) $7.50


Archival Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs), 6 or more pages $60.00


Archival Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs), 5 or fewer pages $20.00


Archival Official Personnel Folders (OPFs), 6 or more pages $60.00


Archival Official Personnel Folders (OPFs), 5 or fewer pages $20.00


Self-service copies will be $0.25 per page at all NARA facilities. NARA-made copies will be $0.80 per page. Fees for reproductions not listed will be unchanged; current fees are online []. For more information on NARA’s fees, fee calculations, payment and refund policies, see the Code of Federal Regulations 36 CFR 1258 online at

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Some States Are Raising Their Fees For Vital Records

Several states have announced they recently raised or will be raising their vital records fees. Note older records in many states are retained in their state archives. Depending on what record you are looking for in a particular state you may need to also search the archives sites–which may have different fee structures.


Births become public records 100 years after the event; deaths, marriages, and divorces become public records 50 years after the event.  The Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics is increasing the fee by $5.00 for most all records effective September 4, 2012. The records effected include: increased the fees for all certified copies of vital records (birth, death, fetal death, marriage, divorce), heirloom birth and marriage certificate fees, certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth fee, affidavit of paternity, adoption, and correction processing fees, and the fee for issuing marriage licenses in Alaska.  To read more go to:


Effective August 1, 2012 the Colorado Vital Records increased the charge for a death certificate to $20.00.  All other certificates were not increased at this time.    See: 

original url:


The Division of Vital Records of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issues certified copies of birth, death, fetal death, and marriage certificates for events that occur in Maryland. Birth  and death certificates are $24.00 (raised in July for death records). Marriage records are still $12.00. Current or former members of the Armed Services are not charged.


With thanks to:

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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RPAC at Federation of Genealogical Societies at Birmingham

Records Preservation and Access issues are a recurring theme at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Annual Conference in Birmingham this week.

First up,  the APG Roundtable immediately following the Annual Meeting of the Association of Professional Genealogists, on Tuesday, August 28, 2012, at 7:00 PM Central in the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel, Ballroom XII.   Learn what you and/or your chapter can do to help preserve the records so crucial to our profession and ensure our access to those records in the future! The discussion will feature some enlightening role-playing by APG’S “Not Ready for Prime Time Players!”

On Wednesday, the 29th of August,   the Records Preservation and Access Committee will conduct an update session featuring our recent successes and setbacks.  They will also provide training materials and discuss the critical role played by State Liaisons to RPAC in addressing threats to our access to the records we need.

Immediately following this session, RPAC Chair David E. Rencher will address the FGS Luncheon on the topic “Records Access in a post 9/11 World.”  Learn what your society can do to combat this threat.

On Friday August 31st at 11am, I will be leading a discussion with the somewhat whimsical title “Genealogists:  Why do Officials Hate/Ignore Us?”  Genealogists need to be able to articulate why we want to know more about those who have gone before us.  We hope to develop some suggestions on how we can work better with decision makers.

Other conference sessions and events give examples of how genealogical societies and their members can play a role in cemetery and records preservation efforts.

Hope to see many of you there!

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