Social Security Death Index restrictions now law

The Social Security Death Index is further regulated in the recently passed U.S. Budget. The text is much as stated in my last posting, Killing the Social Security Death Index? — decedent names registered within the past 3 years will be available only to those who are certified under a program administered by the Department of Commerce and who have a “fraud prevention interest or other legitimate need for the information and agree to maintain the information under safeguards similar to those required of Federal agencies that receive return information…”

What does this mean? As yet, we don’t know whether vendors who purchase the records will continue to do so or whether they will sell it to third parties: private investigators, attorneys and other professionals. Why not? Because there’s a hefty penalty attached to unauthorized disclosure:

A penalty of $1,000 for each disclosure or misuse of the information is imposed on any persons who improperly disclose the DMF information. A certified person in receipt of DMF information is responsible for any subsequent disclosure of such information. Even if the initial disclosure to a third party is appropriate, if that third party subsequently improperly discloses the information, the certified person is deemed to have also improperly disclosed the information. Thus, in a case in which the improper disclosure is made by a third party who received the information from a certified person, both the certified person and the person who improperly disclosed the information are subject to the penalty. The penalty may not exceed $250,000 per person for any calendar year, except in the case of willful disclosure. In such cases, the penalty is not limited.

The terms of access will require vendors and users to establish data safeguards and a standardized record keeping system, which will be further defined by the Commerce Secretary. Since this is a cost-cutting maneuver disguised as fraud prevention, there will be a fee to obtain certification.

Genealogists and family history researchers may lose access if the largest current providers — Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org — opt out of the certification program. These are low-cost databases — FamilySearch is free — so how are they going to ensure that those who access the SSDI have met the requirements of the Act?

References: Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, Title II, Sec. 203. Restriction on access to the death master file.

Elsewhere online: SSDI access now limited; The Deathly Flaw Buried in the Budget Deal and GAO: Fixes Needed for Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.

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