Government seeks to further restrict the use and display of the Social Security number

A federal legislative hearing spotlighted (once again) the widespread display of Social Security numbers in public records.Various speakers at the recent House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security discussed the problems of identity theft. Justin Yurek of ID Watchdog, recommended that Social Security numbers should be removed from all public records and should never be sold to unaffiliated 3rd parties for any reason.

The summary of the Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, Social Security Numbers: Use is Widespread and Protection Could be Improved notes that information resellers have few restrictions on their ability to obtain and sell public records, including Social Security numbers. The full report advises the IRS and Attorney General establish a policy of truncating Social Security numbers on all lien filings and notices.

Sen. Charles Schumer pointed to the differing strategies in masking Social Security numbers in online government and private company databases.

First, we need to have uniform standards for protecting Social Security numbers by hiding either the first five digits or the last four digits.

The good news is that federal agencies have started hiding the first five digits of Social Security numbers in public record documents. The very bad news is that data brokers and other entities are going in the opposite direction of hiding the last four digits.

This makes it very easy to use public sources to piece together a full nine-digit Social Security number that could be used for identity theft. The GAO was able to do this in just one hour, from their desks. An identity thief could do the exact same thing – from anywhere in the world.

Perhaps of concern to reporters, investigators and attorneys is proposed legislation by Schumer that could restrict the information databrokers provide.

That’s why I am proposing new legislation that will require the Social Security Administration to set standards telling public agencies and private businesses exactly what method of truncation to use.

The Oregon Secretary of State announced new standards for acceptance of filings – which must mask certain personal identifiers.

After July 15, 2007, the Secretary of State may refuse to file documents containing a Social Security number, a state identification number, a driver license number, a credit or debit card number, or an account number that is not redacted to at least the last four digits of the number.

The Federal Trade Commission report on identity fraud presents a statistical analysis of the types and extent of reported identity theft and fraud.


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