Tags: Social | Security | Official | Urges | Limits | Use | Numbers

Social Security Official Urges Limits on Use of Numbers

Tuesday, 22 May 2001 12:00 AM

"With certain legislated exceptions, no private citizen, no business interest and no ministerial government agency should be allowed to sell, display, purchase or obtain any individual's SSN," said Inspector General James G. Huse Jr.

"Nor should they be able to use any individual's SSN to obtain other personal information about the individual."

The use and misuse of the ubiquitous SSN, now routinely given to Americans at birth or by school age, has been gaining greater attention in recent years.

Americans such as Nicole Robinson, an information technician in Maryland, offer ready explanations for why access to the number needs to be curtailed.

"I am a victim of identify theft," said Robinson, who also testified before the House subcommittee on Social Security.

"I had always been a person who kept my Social Security card under lock and key. I never gave personal information over the phone. I always shredded and systematically discarded pre-approved credit applications, and I checked my credit reports every year," Robinson said.

"But since Health Maintenance Organizations 'required' my Social and used it as an identification number, I was forced to be a victim," she said.

Robinson's ordeal started when an employee of a Texas business that maintained HMO databases allegedly stole her Social Security number and used it to get credit. The alleged thief then rang up $36,000 worth of goods over three months.

Robinson took steps to contact the police, businesses and credit agencies to stop the raid on her identity and good credit.

The perpetrator was even arrested but was soon released. "Two days after her release," said Robinson, "she applied for a mortgage" using Robinson's Social Security number.

"This has impacted my life greatly," said Robinson. "I received delinquent bills for purchases she had made."

Among many fruitless efforts, Robinson "spent countless hours on calls with creditors in Texas who were reluctant to believe that the accounts that had been opened were fraudulent."

Robinson is hardly alone. Huse reports that in fiscal year 2000, his office received 92,847 allegations of SSN misuse and program fraud, all of which are reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

The inspector general's office also engages in sting operations to snare would-be identity thieves.

"We as a government created the SSN, and we as a government must control it," said Huse.

But others who deplore the use and misuse of the Social Security number say the heavy hand of the federal government should not come down on, say, local governments or private individuals and businesses.

"By regulating the accumulation and use of the SSN, can something effective be done to enhance privacy and/or reduce identity theft?" asked Charles Bacarisse, district clerk for Harris County, Texas.

"Unfortunately, no," he concluded. "That horse left the barn long ago."

"Tighter regulations on the use of SSNs will increase the burdens and costs on everyone while doing little or nothing to enhance anyone's privacy," said Bacarisse, because official court proceedings in Harris County require Social Security numbers.

"We estimate that the cost of redacting one document at $8.07," he said. That cost would need to be applied to the hundreds of thousands of documents generated by Harris County annually.

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, believes he has the solution to problems created by the SSN. He's introduced a bill that would let Americans get a new number upon request and forbid most government agencies from using it.

"Federal laws are not only ineffective in stopping private criminals," said Paul, "they have not even stopped unscrupulous government officials from accessing personal information," citing widely reported scandals involving Internal Revenue Service agents.

Paul also believes that the federal government lacks the constitutional authority to assign universal identifying numbers in the first place, even if the number helps the government track and snag criminals.

"The federal government has no right to treat all Americans as criminals by spying on their relationship with their doctors, employers or bankers," Paul said.

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With certain legislated exceptions, no private citizen, no business interest and no ministerial government agency should be allowed to sell, display, purchase or obtain any individual's SSN, said Inspector General James G. Huse Jr. Nor should they be able to use any...
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2001-00-22
Tuesday, 22 May 2001 12:00 AM
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