Legislators seek to restrict use of Social Security numbers
- By Patrick Thibodeau
- Jul 17, 2000
In an effort to curb the growing problem of identity theft, legislators
have introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would set restrictions on
government and business use of Social Security numbers. A similar bill is
due shortly in the House.
The measures are ringing alarms for businesses, which rely heavily on
Social Security numbers to identify their customers. The numbers are one
of the key tools that criminals need to steal identity. But they are also
the glue that makes it possible for businesses to, for instance, quickly
approve a customer's credit at the time of sale. Social Security numbers
are ingrained in business automation processes, especially in credit approval.
If Congress restricts the transfer or sale of Social Security numbers,
"point-of-sale issuing of credit would be extremely difficult if not impossible,"
said Norm Magnuson, a vice president of public affairs at the trade group
Associated Credit Bureaus Inc. in Washington, D.C. "There is no question
that Social Security numbers are abused, [but] you have to remember what
would happen if you went to the other extreme."
Last week, U.S. House Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Clay Shaw
(R-Fla.) said he planned to introduce legislation protecting Social Security
numbers. The bill would set a variety of restrictions on government and
businesses, such as prohibiting the sale of Social Security numbers to third
Clay said identity theft is the nation's fastest-growing crime, affecting
an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 people per year.
Clay's bill follows legislation sought by Vice President Al Gore and
introduced by Senate Democrats last month that would also impose business
and government restrictions on the use of Social Security numbers.
Bill Bradway, an analyst at Meridien Research in Newton, Mass., said
Social Security numbers are important linking devices in any credit transaction.
When Social Security numbers were first introduced, Bradway said, the
government never intended for them to be required to conduct business, but
"incremental business practices have evolved to the point where the Social
Security number is a common piece of data to many business models."