Records, Computers and the Rights of Citizens. Right of an Individual to Refuse to Disclose the Social Security Number

07/01/1973

As indicated in Chapter VII, increasing demands are being placed on individuals to furnish an SSN in circumstances when use of the SSN is not required by the Federal government for Federal program purposes. For example, the SSN is demanded of individuals by State motor vehicle departments, by public utility companies, landlords, credit grantors, schools, colleges, and innumerable other organizations.

Existing Federal law and Social Security regulations are silent on such uses of the SSN. They provide no clear basis for keeping State and local government agencies and private organizations from demanding and using the number. As a practical matter, disclosure of one's SSN has been made a condition for obtaining many benefits and services, and legal challenges to this condition under State law have been almost uniformly unsuccessful.

If the SSN is to be stopped from becoming a de facto SUI, the individual must have the option not to disclose his number unless required to do so by the Federal government for legitimate Federal program purposes, and there must be legal authority for his refusal. Since existing law offers no such clear authority, we recommend specific, preemptive, Federal legislation providing:

(1) That an individual has the right to refuse to disclose his SSN to any person or organization that does not have specific authority provided by Federal statute to request it;

(2) That an individual has the right to redress if his lawful refusal to disclose his SSN results in the denial of a benefit, or the threat of denial of a benefit; and that, should an individual under threat of loss of benefits supply his SSN under protest to an unauthorized requestor, he shall not be considered to have forfeited his right to redress.

(3) That any oral or written request made to an individual for his SSN must be accompanied by a clear statement indicating whether or not compliance with the request is required by Federal statute, and, if so, citing the specific legal requirement.