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.

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