Social Security Death Index is now restricted

[Update, 1/29/2012: The Subcommittee on Social Security of the House Ways & Means Committee is meeting (February 2, 2012) and will address legislation that would restrict access to the SSDI. Read more at: Sounding a call to action to save our access to the SSDI.]

A change in Social Security Administration policy that went into effect November 1 has lead to the removal of the free online Social Security Death Index, also known as SSDI, from Rootsweb and other genealogy sites. But that’s not all. The Social Security Administration is going to remove 4 million current name records and cease reporting other data in new records. One popular fee-based data provider is going to stop displaying the Social Security number for anyone who has died in the last 10 years. This is a profound blow to genealogists and fraud investigators.

The SSA Public Death Master File aka Social Security Death Index has come under political assault as a source of Social Security numbers used to craft false identities. As Dick Eastman rightly argues in “Genealogists are Losing Access to SSDI, Mostly Due to Misinformation,” this is another case of misplaced concerns about the dissemination of personal information. The fallacy of the identity theft argument is detailed in “Are We Going to Lose the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)?”.

The background on the SSA’s explanation is cited at Steve’s Genealogy Blog, “Changes to the Public Death Master File (DMF) and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)”.

What will be removed from the Death Master File that the SSA sells to every provider is the state verified data — which comes from the death certificate. That includes the last residence (town, county and zip code) and the location where benefits were sent. (This was confirmed in an email exchange I had with the government agency that distributes the SSA data.) How many times have you made use of that information to find beneficiaries to estates and pensions, connected separated family members, verified identity, researched a genealogy or located where a client’s family lived when a relative died? All the time.

Here’s what the Social Security Administration announced upon the release of the DVD version of the SSDI (in 2005):

The SSA Death Master File is used by leading government, financial, investigative, credit reporting, medical research and other industries to verify identity as well as to prevent fraud and comply with the USA Patriot Act.

The excitement has worn off. Fear prevails.

And there’s more. The largest genealogy data provider, Ancestry.com, announced (after political pressure was applied) that “…we have recently made a purposeful decision to not display Social Security numbers of any person that has passed away in the last 10 years.”

And more extensive restrictions are now in place for the release of information in the Social Security application — which has the parents’ names and place of birth of the applicant. Again, serious researchers will loose out.

Some free sources of the SSDI are still online but they aren’t as flexible as the Rootsweb interface and may have less data. I have links to these, other vital records at my directory of public records resources.

12 Responses to “Social Security Death Index is now restricted”

  • Doris Gordon:

    Why should you have to pay for death info?  It is a public record.

  • Jane:

    Oh for crying out loud…yet another example of the government having nothing better to do and looking for ways to spend money and annoy the public. Of course, they must be invested in Ancestry as you can still BUY the information – they must get a percentage.

  • Carolyn:

    Just remove the Social Security numbers but to totally remove everything seems ridiculous.  I was also using to search ancestors. 

  • Debbie:

     I am doing a family record on both sides of my family & I used SSDI to help me with it..& I only used their name I don’t need anyones SSN, but it was nice to look up relatives on the site
     So the government is providing public information to other websites (selling?) so I have to pay for public records?????? This is not rght and should not be legal.

  • The so-called “political pressure” is outrageous.  If a number of Senators get together and destroy a freely published website, that is called censorship, and it is illegal.

  • Tamara Thompson:

    Low-cost, low-volume database searches are offered by PublicData, including SSDI, but there are no free searches. SearchBug requires the user to fill out a multi page signup form to get access to free searches. That will discourage most users as long as other providers offer the free search of the death index without site registration.

  • Noah:

    Hi Tamara,

    Great post.. you beat me to it.. Hope you’re having a happy holiday season. You can also let your users know that searchbug also offers free Death Records Search (limit to 5 per day) but unlimited use subscriptions are available if needed.

  • Roberto Rivera:

    I’ve checked my trusty old affordable source http://www.publicdata.com and they are still listing full SSN’s in their SSA Death Master File.

  • ValDal:

    I “ditto” Barb.  I found SSDI to be useful to look for people missing to see if they had in fact, died.  I could care less about the number itself.  Public information now only available for sale.  This is ridiculous.  So the government is providing public information to other websites (selling?) so I have to pay for public records?????? This is not rght and should not be legal.

  • Tamara Thompson:

    The Social Security number is the only unique personal identifier, essential to the private investigator and genealogist who use the SSn to find current addresses for people, identify relatives, confirm identity and, in the case of the SSDI, locate the last town and zip code of residence and SSA benefits. This provides leads to relatives and where a death certificate is filed. There’s an effort in Congress to block public access to the SSDI altogether (See http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.3475:). How long before they disallow the legitimate business and legal use of the Social Security number?

  • I have always wondered WHY they would use the SSN on this website.  However, I do believe they could have done something different and left the index available.  I don’t need anyones SSN, but it was nice to look up relatives on the site.

    Kathy

  • Barbara:

    I think this is a terrible blow to the research of genealogist.  There has been information about a persons death that the families did not know until we looked the person up on the death index and now we are not able to do that.

    Thank you for the free address where we can continue to receive the information.  I had looked at several sites before finding yours and was not satisified with the information provided.

    We have a family member who has been missing for over 7 years and the Social Security Death Index is a way that we can check to see if  his death is recorded. At this time we have no other way of knowing where he is or of who if he has passed away.

    Thank you again,

    Barb

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