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: http://www.nytimes.com/...
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.