Friday, February 25, 2005

A Ban on the Use of Social Security Numbers for Non-governmental Purposes

A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on prohibiting the use of Social Security Numbers (aka Federal ID Numbers or FEINs) for any purpose but administration of the Social Security system and other Federal uses (military IDs, the IRS, etc...). Emergent Chaos tracked back,arguing that he would not go so far, especially since identity thieves would already be subject to liability under the Financial Modernization Act of 1999, also known as the “Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act” or GLB Act. This criticism, however, misses the point of my post: Imposing criminal and civil liability is well and good, but does nothing for those victimized by identity theft. One of the first matters I handled as an attorney involved my cousin, whose identity had been "stolen" and used to purchase goods and services all over New York City. As a result, she was unable to lease an apartment (due to the resulting bad credit history) and was forced to live with a co-worker from her new job for an extended period of time until her good credit was restored. In another incident, my father apparently had his identity "stolen" during a hospital stay. The enterprising users of his good credit purchased thousands of dollars of goods all over Southeast Michigan. As with my cousin, it took a long time to rehabilitate my Dad's credit.

My proposal, again, is to outlaw the use of FEINs for non-governmental uses and to create a system in which a identity theft victim can "dispose" of the blemished identity upon a showing that his / her credit has been damaged as a result of the theft. Obviously, there will have to be safeguards put in place to prevent the criminally-minded from shedding their identities to defraud bona fide creditors, but I think that this hurdle can be overcome.

The first part of my proposal (prohibition of non-governmental use of FEINs) has been adopted as a platform plank by the Republican Party of Minnesota. Ironically enough, this position has also been adopted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) , a Ralph Nader group with which I would rarely agree on anything. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has also signed on.

So far, my research has not yielded any serious proposals for an alternative to the FEIN for financial identification. However, you cannot outlaw the FEIN's use by the private sector without something to replace it.

I will dedicate a later post to how I see that being done.

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