[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.