How would you feel if the government restricted your access to records that name your ancestors? How far would you have progressed in your genealogical research without access to birth, death, and marriage records? What if you lost access to those and other records used to establish kinship links and our family histories? Even worse, what if your relative was unidentified and unclaimed in a coroner's office far from home and those trying to identify the deceased lost access to the very records that would allow them to find you? Or your military serviceman's body could only be identified if a living family member can be found to provide a reference DNA sample for comparison?
Several years ago a group of genealogical organizations formed an advocacy committee — RPAC — Records Preservation and Access Committee. The group has been much more visible in the last few months and is leading the charge to preserve access to records we use every day. An important blog entry on recent efforts can be found at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2012/02/07/rpac-launches-stop-identity-theft-now-petition/. The main RPAC website is at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/.
As many genealogists now know, the U.S. House of Representatives, Ways and Means Committee, held a hearing on February 2nd to consider closing access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI, based on the Death Master File / DMF). Only those in favor of closing the records were allowed to speak at the hearing. See http://www.ntis.gov/products/ssa-dmf.aspx for more information on the DMF and SSDI.
Many of us believe our elected officials are trying to enact legislation to make Americans feel better and safer, but that will actually have the opposite effect. Some of those violated by identity theft believe their social security numbers (SSN) were stolen from online SSDI databases. Ironically, the DMF /SSDI was created to prevent SSNs of deceased persons from being used fraudulently. And in this computerized age, how can the government justify ignoring data they spend so many of our tax dollars collecting? Legislators on both sides of the aisle are pushing to close records. But how can we allow the party that scorns government regulation to champion so many actions that regulate those who aren't able to make million dollar donations?
How can you help?
Understand the issue by reading the RPAC Talking Points on Why Genealogists Need the
Social Security Death Index (SSDI) at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/talking-points-on-why-genealogists-need-social-security-death-index-final.pdf.
Sign the online petition at http://wh.gov/khE. Step-by-step instructions for creating an account on whitehouse.gov and for ensuring your petition signature is counted can be found at http://fgs.org/pdf/rpac_petition.pdf.
FAX a letter to your congresspersons and senators. FAXing is better than writing; postal deliveries to the capital are delayed due to screening after anthrax-laced letters were sent via mail shortly after 9-11. Sample letter suggestions can be found at http://www.iajgs.org/pramc/Latest_Alert.doc. Legislators can often be persuaded by letters and FAXes that indicate constituents can support a bill if certain specified changes are implemented. This can sometimes be better than a bald statement that you are against a bill.
Find your senator at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm. Most senators have their Washington, D.C., FAX number on their senate page. Often the Web page for a senator is http://_surname_.senate.gov, for example, hutchinson.senate.gov for Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson.
Find your congress-person at http://www.house.gov/. Often the Web page for a congressman is http://_surname_.house.gov, for example, gohmert.house.gov for Texas Representative Louis Gohmert.
Don't they deserve to hear from you after all the robocalls you have received from them during the dinner hour?
The DMF / SSDI is only ONE of the record sets facing restrictive access regulations. Access to social security SS-5 information and vital records in many states are under attack by those who do not understand these records are not contributing significantly to identity theft. If we enforced the laws already on the books and made proper use of the information available now, we wouldn't need "feel good" laws that sound good but don't accomplish the intended goal.
© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, All Rights Reserved