Records, Computers and the Rights of Citizens. VIII. Recommendations Regarding Use of the Social Security Number


Until safeguards against abuse of automated personal data systems have become effective, constraints should be imposed on the use of the SSN. After that, the question of SSN use might properly be reopened.

We recommend that Federal policy with respect to use of the SSN be governed by the following general principles.

First, uses of the SSN should be limited to those necessary for carrying out requirements imposed by the Federal government.

Second, Federal agencies and departments should not require or promote use of the SSN except to the extent that they have a specific legislative mandate from the Congress to do so.

Third, the Congress should be sparing in mandating use of the SSN, and should do so only after full and careful consideration preceded by well advertised hearings that elicit substantial public participation. Such consideration should weigh carefully the pros and cons of any proposed use, and should pay particular attention to whether effective safeguards have been applied to the automated personal data systems that would be affected by the proposed use of the SSN.

Fourth, when the SSN is used in instances that do not conform to the three foregoing principles, no individual should be coerced into providing his SSN, nor should his SSN be used without his consent.

Fifth, an individual should be fully and fairly informed of his rights and responsibilities relative to uses of the SSN, including the right to disclose his SSN whenever he deems it in his interest to do so.

In light of these principles, we make specific recommendations with respect to the individual's right to refuse to disclose his SSN, issuance of SSNs, constraints on use or dissemination of SSNs, and prohibition of non-data-processing uses of the SSN. Ideally, Congress should review all present Federal requirements for use of the SSN to determine whether the existing requirements should be continued, repealed, or modified. In this chapter, we recommend several modifications that would apply to all SSN requirements now in force.