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He’s at it again

Congressman Sam Johnson (R-Texas) seems to think that the Social Security Death Index is the worst thing that ever happened in the world of identity theft.

HR2720bUnfortunately for genealogists, Johnson isn’t just any member of Congress. He’s the chairman of the Social Security subcommittee of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

And he’s out to kill the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) — officially known as the Death Master File (DMF) — just as he tried to do in the last session of Congress.

He’s just being a little sneakier about it.

Johnson and a co-sponsor, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-California), introduced a bill, H.R. 2720, last week, “the Alexis Agin Identity Theft Protection Act of 2013,” named after a little girl whose Social Security number was stolen by identity thieves after her tragic death from cancer.1 It’s the fifth bill introduced in this session of Congress to limit the SSDI, joining:

H.R. 295, the “Protect and Save Act of 2013,” introduced by Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Florida), to close the SSDI for up to three years after a person’s death to everyone except those certified to have “a legitimate fraud prevention interest in accessing the information.”2

H.R. 466, the “Social Security Death Master File Privacy Act of 2013,” Introduced by Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-Massachusetts), to bar any access by any member of the public to the social security account number of any deceased person — no matter how long ago that person died.3

H.R. 531, the “Tax Crimes and Identity Theft Prevention Act,” sponsored by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Florida) to close the SSDI for up to two years after a person’s death to everyone except those certified to have “a legitimate fraud prevention interest in accessing the information.”4

S. 676, the “Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Prevention Act of 2013,” sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), to close the SSDIO for two years after a person’s death to everyone except those certified to have “a legitimate interest in preventing fraud or unauthorized financial transactions” and certain others.5

Reading through this newest bill, you might get the impression that Johnson’s position has softened. There’s actually language in H.R. 2720 that would authorize the disclosure of information “concerning individuals whose date of death occurred at least 3 calendar years prior” to the date of the request.6 And it sounds like it has the same kind of certification system of the other bills (limited to those with financial interests in the data).7

Don’t be fooled.

Johnson has been an unrelenting foe of public access to the SSDI and has specifically targeted genealogists as The Bad Guys in the fight against identity theft. Hearings held by his subcommittee last year were specifically designed to make genealogists the scapegoat while deliberately keeping the genealogical community from having a fair chance to present our views.

And — like his bill last term — this bill by Johnson will, if passed, do what all the other bills don’t: close public access to the SSDI completely, forever and a day, amen. Because buried in the bill is this innocuous-sounding language: “Subparagraphs (C) through (H) of section 205(r)(7) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 405(r)(7)) (as amended by subsection (a)) shall cease to be effective on January 1, 2019…” And here’s what Johnson’s own press release says that will do:

HR2720

So if adopted, Johnson’s bill would shut down access to the SSDI to everybody during the three years after a person’s death except those certified to have a financial need for the information. And after 2019, the Death Master File — the DMF — what we know as the SSDI — would stop being made public completely.

Action on all these bills will probably pick up in the fall when Congress returns from its summer vacation. Stay tuned.


SOURCES

  1. H.R. 2720, 113th Congress, 1st sess., Congress.gov (http://beta.congress.gov : accessed 22 July 2013).
  2. H.R. 295, 113th Congress, 1st sess., Congress.gov (http://beta.congress.gov : accessed 22 July 2013).
  3. H.R. 466, 113th Congress, 1st sess., Congress.gov (http://beta.congress.gov : accessed 22 July 2013).
  4. H.R. 531, 113th Congress, 1st sess., Congress.gov (http://beta.congress.gov : accessed 22 July 2013)
  5. S. 676, 113th Congress, 1st sess., Congress.gov (http://beta.congress.gov : accessed 22 July 2013)
  6. §2, H.R. 2720, 113th Congress, 1st sess., Congress.gov (http://beta.congress.gov : accessed 22 July 2013).
  7. Ibid.
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