Friday, January 20, 2012

Senator Brown Responds to Concern about SSDI Restrictions

In mid-December, I sent an email to my Senator, Sherrod Brown, expressing concern about his move to limit access to the Social Security Death Index. Yesterday, I received a reply from Sen. Brown explaining his beliefs on this matter. First some background:

Brown and three other senators contacted Ancestry.com and other providers of the SSDI to genealogists and requested that they stop providing access to social security records of deceased persons. What prompted them to do this was a case in which unscrupulous individuals requested and received a refund of the Internal Revenue Service for the a child that was deceased. Supposely, they were able to do this because the child's social security number was available in the SSDI. The case gained public attention when the parents filed a legitimate return and were turned down.

You can read my post on this issue at my other blog, NEOhio Genealogy Blog by clicking here.

I'd suggest you read two other reports that discuss the issue: Kimberly Powell at About Genealogy (click here) and Megan Smolenyak on her Roots World blog (click here).
Ancestry.com did take action and redacted social security numbers going back 10 years. We still have access to earlier social security numbers to aid in requesting social security applications for our ancestors. I have confirmed this by searching for records of family members who passed away last year and just more than a decade ago.

I believe that other measures could have been taken rather than even removing SS numbers from more recent deceased persons SSDI entries. For example, the IRS could make computer runs against the SSDI to assure that no fraudulent tax returns were filed against account numbers of deceased persons. That is the purpose, after all, of compiling the SSCI.

In any case, because Sen. Brown was thoughtful enough to respond to my email, I am providing his response in its entirety here:
Dear Mr. Huskonen:

Thank you for getting in touch with me regarding the posting of Social Security numbers of deceased individuals.

Social Security numbers of deceased individuals are available for public purchase through the Death Master File (DMF). Due to the fact that an individual’s right to privacy is extinguished upon death, websites such as Ancestry.com are able post the Social Security numbers of deceased individuals.

Unfortunately, posting such personal information can provide unscrupulous individuals with the tools needed to commit consumer fraud, including tax and credit card fraud. No family should ever have to discover that a loved-one’s personal information has been stolen and used for ill-intentioned purposes. This is why I wrote to the Ancestry.com and several other genealogy websites urging them to remove Social Security numbers from their websites. I am pleased that Ancestry.com has agreed to this request.
I have heard from a number of genealogists and historians who are concerned that the removal of Social Security numbers from genealogy websites will hinder their ability to trace family ancestry. While I understand Social Security numbers are be a valuable tool for tracking a family’s history, I believe the unintended consequences of this practice outweigh the benefits.

I appreciate you sharing your views on this issue with me. Thank you again for writing.

Sincerely,
Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

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