Navy aims to limit use of Social Security numbers

As it awaits Defense guidance, the service tries to better safeguard personal information.

The Navy's chief information officer has instructed service organizations to eliminate the use of, or hide or mask service members' Social Security numbers whenever possible while the Defense Department develops a servicewide plan to reduce reliance on the information.

The Navy, along with the other military services, is awaiting Defense guidance for substituting other identifiers where Social Security numbers now are required because the numbers are involved in nearly 70 percent of service data breaches and are a key element in identify theft and fraud, Navy officials said. Officials devoted the most recent issue of CHIPS magazine, the Navy's leading IT publication, to the topic.

Chief Information Officer Terry A. Halvorsen said safeguarding personally identifiable information must be a priority at every level of the Navy, from the people who handle such personal information to the leaders responsible for security controls, training and oversight. "The unauthorized disclosure of the SSN associated with a person's name may result in real consequences," Halvorsen said in the magazine. "I still see too many forms requiring the full SSN when it is not required; we need to get better at this."

Under the Navy's reduction plan, officials must justify the request for Social Security numbers on all Navy and Marine Corps forms and eliminate their use on all unofficial forms. The eventual goal is to have a unique Defense Department ID replace Social Security numbers across all the services. Defense expects to begin removing Social Security numbers from bar codes on service member ID cards by 2012.