SSA exposed SSNs, names, birth dates for 36,000 people, IG says

Agency inadvertently included personal info for living people in its Death Master File

The Social Security Administration publicly made available the names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information on more than 36,000 people from May 2007 to April 2010 despite being warned about the privacy risks, according to a report from SSA's Office of the Inspector General.

The information was erroneously included in SSA’s Death Master File sold to the public. The 36,657 people affected were not deceased, and the release of the personal information was considered a breach of privacy, the report states.

The IG first told SSA officials in June 2008 to take precautions against a pattern of publishing the personal information of living people in its database of death-related information, the report states, adding that there was no indication that organized identity thefts were taking place.

Related story:

SSA faces IT management problems, IG says

However, SSA did not follow those precautions, and the agency continued to expose personal data of people mistakenly included in its Death Master File, according to the March 31 report.

“SSA did not implement a risk-based approach for distributing Death Master File information, attempt to limit the amount of information included on the Death Master File version sold to the public, or explore alternatives to inclusion of individuals’ full Social Security number,” the report states. "SSA continued to publish the Death Master File with the knowledge its contents included the personally identifiable information of living numberholders."

The IG recommended taking more steps to limit reporting errors and reducing the amount of personal information in the publicly available Death Master File.

SSA officials disagreed with both recommendations, according to the report. No additional information on their position was immediately available.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Wed, Apr 20, 2011

SSA's Office could do what the illegal aliens do and buy back the SS's numbers at $200+ but then again were talking about how it effected Americans "living" so what does the government was intentionally done.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group