your Social Security number|
In California, college ID cards
no longer contain the Social Security number of students. Instead
they use a less-invasive number that proves identity. The same law
goes for medical records and Medicare cards. It is illegal to have
your Social Security number listed on your Medicare card. The law
also requires companies to notify consumers if their personal information
has been breached.
states have security-breach laws, and some of those states also
prohibit the use of Social Security numbers for identification purposes.
"Your SSN is unique to you, so unique that it
gives complete access to everything known about you, which is pretty
dangerous," says attorney Chris Hoofnagle, senior counsel to
the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Hoofnagle and a fellow center member testified before
Congress calling for a ban on Social Security numbers used as identifiers
and asked that companies develop methods of identifying consumers
that are not based on publicly available data or data easily bought
from brokers. Any passwords chosen could be easily changed by the
consumer if warranted.
Edmund Mierzwinski, National Association of State
Public Interest Research Groups consumer program director, says
that despite state laws protecting private information, Congress
is trying to pass federal laws that would reduce using Social Security
numbers for identification.
"The Social Security number protections are not what they seem. The government
established the use of Social Security numbers to regulate Medicare, Social Security
benefits and taxes, but the government allows others to use the numbers without
regulating how they are used."
Mierzwinski points to credit bureaus as the main offenders
of Social Security number abuse.
"Credit bureaus are strictly regulated when they
sell credit reports but are not strictly regulated when they sell
your information, or header information, which includes your name,
address, mother's maiden name and your Social Security. That information
is sold on an unregulated basis.
"Government and business do not want consumers
to have control over their financial DNA, but they also don't want
to be held responsible if there is a security breach. The industry
strategy is to establish weak breach laws that take away state laws,"
and other consumer advocates want to see laws that benefit the consumer, not big
business. "We would like to see an amendment that states neither businesses
nor government can deny someone service if they choose not to give their Social
Hillebrand agrees. "You can't close down your
Social Security number the way you can close down your bank account
or credit card. There must be some kind of accountability and protection
that gives consumers peace of mind."
legacy of Social Security numbers
While consumers are looking for state and federal
laws that would ensure that private information stays private, almost
half of Americans carry their Social Security cards in a wallet
or purse, according to the American
Express ID Theft Quiz.