Last Chance to Comment on Rules Regarding Social Security Death Index Access

Board-certified genealogists working in forensic genealogy should read the new regulations for access to the most recent three years of deaths in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), also called the Public Death Master File (Public DMF). The regulations were published in the Federal Register on 30 December 2014, and are available here.

A comment period was opened at that time. All comments are due by 29 January 2015. Your comments must be submitted through the “Submit a Formal Comment” button on the Federal Register website associated with this Final Rule.

The closure of recent deaths in the SSDI was enacted into law on 26 December 2013 and officially began on 28 March 2014. After that time, genealogists needing to locate the recently dead had to qualify for a certification program instituted and developed by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), the entity responsible for selling the Public DMF produced by Social Security Administration. The history of this regulatory process was covered in an earlier Springboard post.

NTIS has requested specific feedback on several areas. Two are important to genealogists: (1) security and (2) impact on small businesses.

The original law provided more than one type of information security solution. Rather than request a technical amendment to the law, NTIS has picked a solution. It asks for feedback on that solution, which is to use third party companies to perform the security evaluation. All costs, of course, are to be borne by the NTIS-Certified Persons with access to the Limited Access DMF.

The impact on small businesses must be measured by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act. The majority of Board-certified genealogists certainly come within this group. If your small business has been hit by the 2013 law and regulations restricting the SSDI/Public DMF, your comments are specifically requested. The Federal Register states:

NTIS is unable at this time to estimate the number of impacted entities that may be considered small entities. Because NTIS lacks information about the types and sizes of entities [small businesses] impacted by this rule, it cannot determine impacts. Accordingly NTIS requests that the public provide it with information about the types of entities impacted by this rule, whether those are small or large entities under [the Small Business Administration]’s size standards, and the level of or a description of the type of impacts that this rule will have on those entities.[1]

Would you like to be NTIS-certified but are uncertain about the user query system on their DMF database? Would you prefer to pay by the query rather than a flat fee of nearly $1000 each year? Are you worried about the third party security program and how much it might cost? Would you rather make your queries through a database aggregator like Ancestry.com? Has this regulation made it more difficult to find next of kin? All of these are important impacts on your small business. NTIS needs to hear about them in order to fulfill its responsibilities under section 203 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

by Barbara Mathews, CG, FASG

As BCG’s official representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), Barbara advocates for the concerns of Board-certified genealogists, and participates in RPAC’s monthly conference call. RPAC is a joint committee organized by the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Each of these three societies has a vote on the committee. Non-voting representatives are sent by several national groups: American Society of Genealogists, Association of Professional Genealogists, BCG, and ICAPGen. In addition, non-voting representatives attend from two corporations, Ancestry, and ProQuest. Communication is fostered by an email list, monthly telephone conference calls, and the RPAC blog.

Photograph used under Creative Commons license. For more information, see https://www.flickr.com/photos/arts/34758108/in/gallery-halliebateman-72157629088082905/.


[1] Federal Register, vol. 79, no. 249, p. 78320, 30 December 2014.

 

RPAC Report, April 2014: Access Changes to the SSDI – Update 2

Photograph courtesy of Microsoft Office.

Submitted by Barbara J. Mathews, CGSM, BCG’s Representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee:

Implementation of Access Restrictions to the SSDI/DMF

The 2013 Ryan-Murray bipartisan budget compromise was signed by President Obama on 26 December 2013. Section 203 of that bill implemented restrictions on access to the Death Master File. The thinking was that the Social Security Death Index (the SSDI is about 60% of the full DMF) was used by crooks to commit IRS tax fraud. Closing it would lower the amount of fraud, saving the government money. The money value associated with fraud reduction became an offset in the budget deal.

Confusion abounded after the bipartisan budget compromise passed. Although there was a 90-day extension for the development of regulations, one congressman thought that the Commerce Department was violating the law by allowing continued access. Although the bill stated explicitly that the fees for certifying access to recent death information could only cover the expense in implementing it, commentators thought that the fees would make it a “money-raiser.” Other analysts pointed out that tax fraud involving the dead constituted only 1.8% of all tax fraud and that nothing was being done about the other 98.2% of fraud.

Section 203 mandates that deaths are redacted from the SSDI until the end of the third calendar year following the death. The Commerce Department was directed to develop within 90 days a certification process for those people who need to gain access during those first three years. That task was delegated to the National Technical Information Services department — the same department that sells access to the Death Master File.

NTIS held an information meeting 4 March 2014 that was attended by about four dozen entities. The attendees represented the interests of life insurance companies, medical researchers, fallen soldier repatriation efforts, state attorneys general, genealogists, and the financial industry. Oral presentations are archived in two batches (Batch 1 contains prepared presentations, beginning with the one by Fred Moss of RPAC, and Batch 2 continues those presentations using a court reporting system [with many transcription errors] as well as presentations from the floor that answered questions asked by the NTIS staff). Follow-up written testimony was accepted until 18 March 2014 and is also archived.

The NTIS regulations are in Interim Final Rule status. They have been published in the Federal Register. To gain access, a researcher must first apply for certification and then subscribe. BCG associate Dee Dee King, CGSM, was an early NTIS Certified Person and subscriber. She describes her experiences here.

At this time, we expect access to deaths that occurred prior to 26 March 2014 to continue as before. We expect that deaths added to the DMF after the implementation of the new regulations will be restricted. Deaths in 2014 will not be posted to the SSDI until the end of 2017.

Genealogists originally gained access to the Social Security Death Index through the Freedom of Information Act. Section 203 removed FOIA protection but the long-term repercussions of that are still unclear.

Update 1: added more accurate description of differences between Batch 1 and Batch 2, courtesy of Fred Moss.

Update 2: added a link to Dee Dee King’s article on the NTIS certification process.

As BCG’s official representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), Barbara advocates for the concerns of Board-certified genealogists, and participates in RPAC’s monthly conference call. RPAC is a joint committee organized by the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Each of these three societies has a vote on the committee. Non-voting representatives are sent by several national groups: American Society of Genealogists, Association of Professional Genealogists, BCG, and ICAPGen. In addition, non-voting representatives attend from two corporations, Ancestry, and ProQuest. Communication is fostered by an email list, monthly telephone conference calls, and the RPAC blog.