Unintended Consequences of Closing Access to the Death Master File

More than two years ago Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 closed access to the Death Master File (known to genealogists as the Social Security Death Index) for three years after an individual’s death in an attempt to stop tax fraud from identity theft.  Even before the legislation was passed, the IRS was developing filters to reduce tax fraud from stolen identities of the deceased and the living. A result of the progress made by the IRS can be reviewed in annual reports by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration which can be found at http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2013reports/201340122fr.pdf.

Section 203 not only harmed genealogists by restricting access to the only national death index, but many other industries were impacted  including financial, insurance, and pension services and academic, medical and research communities as reported by more than ninety contributors following a hearing held by the National Technical Information Service of the Commerce Department in March 2014 which can be seen at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketBrowser;rpp=25;po=0;dct=PS;D=DOC-2014-0001. Although Final Rules regulating access to the Death Master file during the embargo period were expected by July 2015, so far the Final Rules have not been issued by the Commerce Department.

For a thorough discussion of the issues impacting genealogists see a Statement for the Record at http://www.fgs.org/rpac which was submitted to the Senate Finance Committee by Fred Moss on behalf of the Federation of Genealogical Societies in response to testimony by IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The statement concludes that there are other effective ways to reduce tax fraud caused by identity theft  which would “minimize the unintended adverse consequences of limited access and content available to legitimate users.”

See the Records Preservation and Access Website at http://www.fgs.org/rpac for recent posts which further support these points including a video presentation “Closing Death Records: Silver Bullet or Dead End” from RootsTech 2016 at http://www.rootstech.org/video2/4739709016001.



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Jan Alpert

Chair of the Records Preservation and Access Committee, former president and board member of the National Genealogical Society, and chair of the NGS conference committee.

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