Skip to main content

Your Social Security number is about as private as an unfenced back yard, or your zip code.  Let's acknowledge that, and quit letting somebody steal your identity just because he found your Social Security number.

How many times have we heard stories like this (from today's The New York Times) in the last few years?

The Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of people who received loans or other financial assistance from two Agriculture Department programs were disclosed for years in a publicly available database, raising concerns about identity theft and other privacy violations.  

Here's a link:

We need to draw a distinction between identification and authentication.  Social Security numbers are still useful for identification, in the sense of making sure everyone is talking about the same person.  But they've become useless for authentication -- just because you can quote somebody's Social Security number no longer means you are indeed that person.  Let's put everyone's number on a public database, and let the tabloids publish the SSN's of Britney Spears, and George W. Bush, and anyone else they want.  I can't imagine it would help them sell papers.  

If necessary, let's even pass a law forbidding banks, credit card companies, and anyone else from using SSN's as authentication.  Those companies are far too eager to extend 'instant credit', anyway.  Banks need to have secret authentication codes with their customers.  Credit card companies have already moved toward such a system, with authentication questions like, "What was your mother's maiden name?" or "What was the make of your first car?"  Social Security numbers are one of the world's worst kept secrets.  Let's quit pretending they're secret at all, and make them as public as your zip code.

Originally posted to david78209 on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 08:53 PM PDT.


Have you had an experience with identity theft?

11%7 votes
11%7 votes
13%8 votes
62%37 votes

| 59 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (15+ / 0-)

    An afterthought -- your SSN could be part of your address, as in:
    John Smith, 123-45-6789
    123 45th Street
    Somecity, Purple state, 90210-6789.

    We're all pretty crazy some way or other; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is just a setting on the dryer.

    by david78209 on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 08:49:57 PM PDT

    •  Goodness, I hope not! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Addresses are long enough already. Especially without the extended zip code :^)

      However, if the numbers were made public record, I would support being able to legally replace one's name with one's SS number in an address format. For example,  the above could either be:

      John Smith
      123 45th Street
      Somecity, Purple state, 90210


      123 45th Street
      Somecity, Purple state, 90210

      ...because sometimes, you just don't feel like writing your name, you know?

      ...from austin to l-ay-cee-ayy / it's a day away / crossed the border we were half awake / into the golden state...

      by Diaries on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 11:22:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Damn, I hope not... (7+ / 0-)

    ...hell, I'm still annoyed that my name is a matter of "public record".

    Why exactly does the "public" have the right to know a damn thing about me?  Considering the outrage here about the Supreme Court decision this week, and considering that Roe is founded on the Right to Privacy, how hard is it to make the persuasive case here that frankly, unless I have violated a law or wish to make a public undertaking, that you have no business at all knowing anything about me?

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

    by Jay Elias on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 08:56:20 PM PDT

    •  If they don't know your name (0+ / 0-)

      they couldn't look up your number.  

      We're all pretty crazy some way or other; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is just a setting on the dryer.

      by david78209 on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 09:03:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In the dystopian future, they'll just (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        david78209, buddabelly, Diaries

        replace our names with a number anyway.

      •  Except... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        david78209, blueoasis

        ...if they make one a matter of public record, then they can use the number to find my name.

        I lack a good answer to the problem of protecting the SSNs of Americans, but I hardly think that making more information public is progress of any kind.

        The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

        by Jay Elias on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 09:09:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  If the SSN has no further function (4+ / 0-)

          than acting as a sort of checksum on your name, so it is possible that "joe smith" is really the joe smith you mean to deal with, then it's not terribly important.  It could end up as a weak form of digital signature.

          You would then need another ID to unlock access to your personal data, properly done this could allow you to allow or block access to certain categories of personal information. (yeah, the software could be tweaked to violate that, but preventing that's what multiple auditors is about)

          A certain amount of information about needs to be public if you are going to have dealings with others. Some sort of handle has to be attached to you so banks know which account to move money in and out of, which means that potentially point of sale entities will know that handle. Someone seeking to contact you must have someway of identifying you uniquely so that they can communicate with you. It is possible to make that anonymous, in the sense the actual person behind the handle isn't known, but very difficult to make it robustly anonymous - there are many ways to track back to the actual person.

          A society based around using strong digital signatures as personal identification could keep personal data anonymous, provided the individual was careful not to leak information on themself ("yeah, I had an upper story put on my house last Fall, and I just painted the house blue and pink")  You'd need some method of assigning trust level regarding anonymous people you communicate with, otherwise you've the problem of telling if 1238193792320042 is really you account representative, a Nigerian scam artist, or some 12 year old kid goofing around, similarly it would be nice if your paycheck actually went to you and not to someone else.

    •  Amen to that! (9+ / 0-)

      I am trying to rent a new apartment, and some of the rental agencies want me to not only give them my SSN, they want me to give them my bank account numbers as well!

      Not bloody likely, I said. My own mother doesn't know my bank account numbers. If they need to know that about me to have me live there, then I don't need to live there.

  •  kind of a side track.. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, WI Deadhead, david78209, kurt

    ...but I nearly was a victim of identity theft. A few years ago I had ordered a bunch of checks by mail and I had also ordered a bunch of business cards. I live in an apartment building with tiny mailboxes. One day I came home and there was a box of checks sitting on the 'mail table' in the lobby. They were unopened but I realized how easily somebody could have taken the box of checks - everyone know what a box of checks looks like - and started writing a bunch of checks to themselves.

    The box of business cards never came but 3 months later I did receive a call from an adjacent city asking if I was victim of identity theft since they had found a box of business cards in the belongings of a person they arrested for committing ID theft.

    I suspect the boxes had come on a different day but in a same size box and someone took them thinking they were checks.

    I don't order checks by mail anymore.

  •  Anybody else disturbed about (7+ / 0-)

    the revelation this week that apparently the Govt has a database containing prescription drug info on many of us?  That scares the hell out of me.

    •  Speak of the devil! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kpardue, Mike Erwin, marina

      Glenn Greenwald had two articles on his blog that dealt in part with that question.

      "What is the rationale behind the prescription drug laws?" was posted
      April 19, 2007 08:09 EST, and I was flattered out of my mind because Glenn Greenwald actually quoted my comment that I'd sent to the previous article, "Our benevolent surveillance state" posted Wednesday April 18, 2007 11:31 EST.

      That earlier article and the discussion that follows it may reassure you, slightly.  I think the federal government may be looking over the states' shoulders on "schedule II" drugs (the most addictive or abuse-prone ones that can be prescribed legally) but I don't think they're making national databases that include who takes what for high blood pressure.  At least not yet.

      We're all pretty crazy some way or other; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is just a setting on the dryer.

      by david78209 on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 10:31:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Somebody In Florida Has A Blockbuster.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...Account using my social security number, and my name. At least as of ten years ago; who knows since?

    The world is deep, And deeper than the day could read

    by NewDirection on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 11:08:23 PM PDT

    •  Does Blockbuster try to bill you? (0+ / 0-)

      That's something to worry about, I suppose.  The other worry is if that person in Florida can use the Blockbuster account as "identification" to get credit or register to vote.  If that guy in Florida gets, "Yeah, so what?" as a reply if he tries to use your social security number to 'authenticate' himself as you, you have a little less to worry about.

      We're all pretty crazy some way or other; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is just a setting on the dryer.

      by david78209 on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 08:24:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Using your favorite car (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WI Deadhead, david78209

    or mother's maiden name isn't good, either.  How many Americans drive anything other than a Ford or Chevy?  You usually get 3 tries.

    Family historys made before identity theft became a problem have made the maiden name too easy to find.

    I received a call from Florida saying that I could get a reduced rate on my xxxx credit card, if I would push a button on the phone. I don't have that card, so I didn't push the button but tried to call them back to see what was going on and it said that number was no longer in service. It had a name showing on the caller id, but not a number. Apparently the name was connected to an disconnected number. None of it made sense and it happened fast.  I don't remember the name of the card, but it wasn't any of the cards I have ever heard of.

  •  In case you've forgotten (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Social Security numbers have a purpose - they are for reporting your earnings so that the Social Security Administration can properly track your earnings records which form the basis of your retirement.  I assume your suggestion is tongue in cheek - although I agree with the part about forgetting the SSN as an identifier - it was never intended to be used that way.  Leave the damn number alone and let the agency do its work the way it was meant to.

  •  Might as well make them public. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Only the delusional think they are secret.  I refused to give out my SS# for trivial crap, starting decades ago,  but I don't assume that it's not easily available to people.  

    I think the critical part of your post is "If necessary, let's even pass a law forbidding banks, credit card companies, and anyone else from using SSN's as authentication."  Absolutely.  But then, isn't is already illegal?  It's just ignored, by everyone.  

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site