House Ways and Means Committee Passes Social Security Number Privacy and Identity Theft Act

Jul 18, 2007 Issues: Social Security

(Washington D.C.)- In a unanimous vote, the House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation today to strengthen protections of Americans’ Social Security Numbers (SSNs). Recent reports indicate that between 10 and 15 million individuals are victims of some form of identity theft every year. Law enforcement experts and the Government Accountability Office have all reported that the SSN is the most valuable piece of information for identity thieves because it unlocks access to other personally identifiable information and is often relied upon by creditors and other businesses to authenticate identity.

“In the wrong hands our Social Security Number unlocks personal and financial information compromising our security and jeopardizing our finances,” said Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), an original co-sponsor of the bill.  “Today we establish additional safeguards to protect privacy and maintain the integrity of the SSN while striking a balance and allowing for law enforcement and other legitimate operations to use these numbers to keep Americans safe.”

The SSN is easily obtained from public and private records because of its use as a primary identifier. These records are often just as easily obtainable by identity thieves as legitimate users of the information. While Federal and Michigan law protects consumers from identity theft, there is no single comprehensive framework that protects the privacy of SSNs. This legislation provides a basic framework to help states strengthen existing identity theft protections.

In addition to restricting the availability of SSNs, the bill includes other provisions to keep SSNs private. These include:

• Prohibiting Federal, State, local governments, and the private sector from selling, purchasing and displaying SSNs.

• Allowing exemptions for legitimate financial and law enforcement use, including the prevention of terrorism.

• Prohibiting Federal, State, local governments, and the private sector from displaying SSNs on checks, government-issued ID, or requiring the transmission of SSNs without encryption on the internet.

• Requiring the government and the private sector protect the SSNs they acquire lawfully from unauthorized access by employees or others.

• Creating new criminal penalties (up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000) for any misuse of the SSN, and includes additional penalties (up to 10 years) for repeat offenders.