On January 7, 2011, Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced a bill entitled the “Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2011” (H.R. 220). The Bill seeks to address the pervasive use of Social Security Numbers by various federal, state and local government agencies and to prevent identity theft by eliminating any use of those numbers in connection with government services. It prohibits governmental agencies from requiring mandatory or even voluntary disclosure of an individual’s Social Security Number in connection with documents filed by individuals.
The Bill includes amendments to the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 405(c)(2)), the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. §§ 6109(d)), and the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a note, 88 Stat. 1909) in the following notable ways:
Social Security Act – H.R. 220 §§ 2(b) and (d)(2):
- Requires that Social Security Account Numbers be randomly generated instead of confirming to a specific numbering system (the Social Security Numbering Scheme is described in detail on the Social Security Administration’s archive);
- Provides that the Social Security Account Number be owned by the individual;
- Prohibits the Social Security Administration from divulging that number to anyone (other than the account holder himself/herself); and
- Requires that any pre-existing Social Security Numbers be declared null and void and reissued within 5 years of enactment of the Bill in accordance with the new “random generation” rules. Certain cross-references to the old numbers may be made, but these are limited.
Internal Revenue Code – § 2(c)(1):
The section to be modified, 26 U.S.C. § 6109(d) currently states:
- “(d) Use of social security account number. The social security account number issued to an individual for purposes of section 205(c)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act shall, except as shall otherwise be specified under regulations of the Secretary, be used as the identifying number for such individual for purposes of this title.”
This section would be amended to read as follows:
- “(d) Use of social security account number for Social Security and Related Purposes. The social security account number issued to an individual for purposes of section 205(c)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act shall, except as shall otherwise be specified under regulations of the Secretary, be used as the identifying number for such individual for purposes of section 86, chapter 2, and subtitle C of this title.”
Privacy Act – H.R. 220 § 3:
Section 7 of the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a (note)) currently reads as follows:Sec. 7(a) (1) It shall be unlawful for any Federal, State or local government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual’s refusal to disclose his social security account number.(2) the provisions of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall not apply with respect to—(A) any disclosure which is required by Federal statute, or(B) any disclosure of a social security number to any Federal, State, or local agency maintaining a system of records in existence and operating before January 1, 1975, if such disclosure was required under statute or regulation adopted prior to such date to verify the identity of an individual.(b) Any Federal, State or local government agency which requests an individual to disclose his social security account number shall inform that individual whether that disclosure is mandatory or voluntary, by what statutory or other authority such number is solicited, and what uses will be made of it.
- Pursuant to H.R. 220, these provisions would be amended to read as follows:
Sec. 7(a) (1) It shall be unlawful for any Federal, State or local government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual’s refusal to disclose his social security account number.(2) The provisions of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall not apply with respect to any disclosure which is required under regulations of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to section 205(c)(2) of the Social Security Act or under regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury pursuant to section 6109(d) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.(b) Except with respect to disclosures described in subsection (a)(2), no agency or instrumentality of the Federal Government, a State, a political subdivision of a State, or any combination of the foregoing may request an individual to disclose his social security account number, on either a mandatory or voluntary basis.
The Bill also prohibits “Government Wide Uniform Identifying Numbers” (Section 4) and “Government Established Identifiers” (Section 5). These two prohibitions would go into effect on January 1, 2012.
Under Section 4, the Bill provides that “any two agencies or instrumentalities of the Federal Government may not implement the same identifying number with respect to any individual” except where authorized by 42 U.S.C. 405(c)(2) [the Social Security Act sections described above]. Id. § 4(a).
Under Section 5, the Bill prohibits any two federal agencies from implementing the same numbering system to assign individual identification numbers to any individual and from conditioning the receipt of any federal grant, contract, or funding on the adoption of a uniform numbering system by a state or local government entity or agency. The Bill makes it clear that “administrative simplification” cannot be the stated purpose in establishing or mandating a uniform standard for identification purposes. Id. § 5(b)(2).
Initial Purpose of Social Security Numbers
As initially implemented, the Social Security Numbering system was not intended as a universal numbering system, and indeed, was not adopted by other agencies as such until at least 1943, when an Executive Order mandated that if a numbering system was required to keep records on individuals, that the Social Security Numbering system be used. Executive Order 9397 (3 CFR (1943-1948 Comp.) 283-284). An interesting chronology of the history of policy changes to the Social Security Numbering System can be found at the Social Security Administration’s web site and the explanation of the meaning of each section of the Social Security Number can be found here.
Status of Legislation
Following its introduction on January 7, 2011, the Bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Basic information about the Bill (except for the actual text) can be found through Thomas (Congress’s legislative portal) at this specific link. The actual text can be found here in a variety of formats, including text, XML and PDF.