Congressional Bills Limit Access to the Social Security Death Index

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is the commercial version of the Death Master File (DMF). The DMF is a computer database file made available by the United State Social Security Administration since 1980 The DMF is a subset of the Social Security Administration’s Numident database file, computerized in 1961, which contains information about all Social Security numbers issued since 1936. 

Last Congressional Session ( 2011-2012) there were a number of bills introduced, some had Congressional hearings, but none were voted on and ll died when the session ended .

The current Congressional session (2013-2014) has already seen four bills introduced that would restrict access to the public, including genealogists to the Death master File and its commercial version the SSDI. 

Below are the links to the current four bills:

HR 295 –Nugent (R-FL)  see: :

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The Secretary of Commerce is prohibited from disclosing any information contained in the DMF regarding any individual who died in the previous two calendar years unless the person is certified under a specific program where the person has a” legitimate fraud prevention interest” in accessing the information described in the DMF.  There is no definition of what a “legitimate fraud prevention interest” is and any one violating this provision is subject to substantial monetary penalties.

HR 466 (Capuano (D-MA) see:

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The Commissioner of Social Security is prohibited from publishing the death master file or any public database that includes the Social Security numbers of any deceased individual. 

HR 531 (Castor D-FL)  see:

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Provisions are similar to HR 295 listed above

SB 676 Nelson(D-FL) Feinstein (D-CA) Schumer (D-NY) see:

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Title III of this bill includes the prohibition of any individual accessing the DMF in the year of death or the next two calendar years unless the person is certified under the program by the Secretary of Commerce. Persons who may be certified include those having a” legitimate interest” in preventing fraud or unauthorized financial transactions, applicable law, regulation, court order, or fiduciary duty, facilitate administration of an insurance policy and credit reporting. There are no provisions for genealogists to be certified. The bill also permits the Social Security Administration not to be required to provide information (FOIA) on Social Security information to those who are not certified under the bill.

We have been expecting the White House to weigh in on this issue and in the annual White House budget proposal the following is part of the DMF/SSDI discussion:  “the Administration is proposing to restrict immediate access to the DMF to those users who legitimately need the information for fraud prevention purposes and to delay the release of the DMF to all other users".  
see pages 153 and 206.  The bill that they are proposing to address identity theft and reduce access to the DMF has not been introduced at the time of this posting. 

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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