Records, Computers and the Rights of Citizens. Prohibition of Non-Data-Processing Uses of the Social Security Number

07/01/1973

The SSN is sometimes used for a purpose having nothing to do with identification, record keeping, or data processing. While these uses do not directly contribute to unfair information practices, they have other undesirable effects. Consider these examples.

"Lucky number" contests in which an SSN is drawn, and its holder is awarded some prize. This is objectionable because it may induce people to try to obtain extra SSNs to increase their chances of winning, and because it trivializes the SSN.

Various items of merchandise, such as wallets, sold with a number-bearing facsimile Social Security card enclosed. This is how one such sample number noted in Chapter VII5 came to be used by more than five thousand people. There are undoubtedly other difficulties that have not yet come to light. We understand that such practices are abating as a result of years of intensive (and expensive) fieldwork by the Social Security Administration which, however, has no legal authority to prevent them.

"Skip-tracing" efforts in which, to quote a Social Security Administration manual,

[d] ebt or tracing organizations occasionally use special correspondence techniques to obtain information from an individual owing money. Some mail out postcards showing a false [SSN] and asking "Is this your Social Security number? If not, call the number listed below to correct this matter."

This is blatantly deceptive and violates reputable business practice. It may also lead people to think that the Social Security Administration is somehow cooperating with skip-tracers.

Such spurious uses of Social Security cards and SSNs tend to interfere with appropriate uses of the SSN and to confuse the public about its proper purposes. They also complicate the work of the Social Security Administration. Accordingly, we recommend

(11) That specific and preemptive Federal legislation be enacted prohibiting use of an SSN, or any number represented as an SSN, for promotional or commercial purposes.

1Social Security Number Task force: Report to the commissioner (Baltimore, Md.: U.S. Social Security Administration), 1971.

2As provided by Section 130 of the Social Security Amendments of 1972, P.L. 92-603, October 30, 1972; 42 U.S.C. 408.

3Op. cit. pp. 26-27

4Ibid., pp. 24-25.

5 Note 4, p. 112, above.