The Social Security Administration’s Death Master File is a database containing information on every dead person who once had U.S. Social Security number–from 1962 to today. The database contains personal information – name, date of birth, date of death, Social Security number – on more than 83 million deceased people. (It used to include the former zip code of person and the zip code to which life insurance benefits are sent, if applicable. The zip codes data was removed in 2011.)
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Death Master File is considered a public document. So the government is required to comply with requests to release it. Privacy issues notwithstanding. Weekly updates of the Death Master File are sold by the US Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service to financial and credit companies “to match records and prevent identity fraud.” But anybody can buy the list. The cost to download it once is approximately $1,825. Besides the privacy issues, some living people get labeled deceased by faulty data in the list. Find yourself in this situation, and you can’t even take money out of the bank. 60 Minutes (March 15, 7pm) talks to some very alive people whom the Death Master File once called dead. It’s a long way back.