Are Agencies Still Overusing Social Security Numbers? Lawmakers Want an Audit

zimmytws/Shutterstock.com

Agencies were supposed to stop defaulting to SSN identification starting nearly a decade ago.

Watchdogs in the House want to know if agencies are still excessively using Social Security numbers to identify federal employees or dole out government benefits, after a surge in SSN breaches has made ID theft a snap. 

Agencies were supposed to stop defaulting to SSN identification starting nearly a decade ago.

2007 White House memo originally required agencies to stop overusing SSNs within 22 months. Flash forward to 2015: The federal government announces 21.5 million Social Security numbers were stolen by hackers after a breach of Office of Personnel Management background check records. ID thieves used 1.3 million stolen SSNs in 2014 and 2015 to attack an Internal Revenue Service system for tax fraud purposes. 

"The potential for misuse of SSNs has raised questions about how the federal government, obtains, uses and protects SSNs it obtains," Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said in a March 24 letter to federal auditors. 

ID theft complaints were up 47 percent from 2014, following a spike in reports of tax ID theft, the Federal Trade Commission reported this month. 

Given the White House in 2007 instructed agencies to cease the "unnecessary collection" of SSNs and explore alternatives to Social Security numbers for identification, Chaffetz said he's curious about their follow-through on "this clear direction."

The House committee has asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of agencies’ headway in eliminating the use and display of Social Security numbers. The lawmakers also want to assess what actions the White House has taken to ensure agencies have quit overusing SSNs, according to the letter. 

The October 2015 "Cybersecurity Implementation and Strategy Plan" mandates the White House update that 2007 privacy memo by this ThursdayNextgov has asked the White House for comment on the status of the reboot.

On Monday, GAO spokesman Chuck Young told Nextgov the committee’s inquiry is undergoing a typical two-week review process. 

Replacing SSNs with other ID codes has not been a walk in the park for one of the largest users of the numbers.

It will take years to adjust and test Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services computer programs to ensure they are compatible with systems at insurers, doctors, states and every other entity that bills Medicare, according to the agency.

Last April, Congress passed a law forcing the agency to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards. 

After tweaking or building new programs, the agency must inform about 60 million Medicare beneficiaries and all other participating organizations about the changes, Sean Cavanaugh, CMS deputy administrator and director, told the Senate Special Committee on Aging last fall.

This requires informing senior citizens how to dispose of their old cards in a secure manner and preventing scammers from misinforming them about the new ID procedures. The agency expects outreach will start in January 2018 and continue through April 2019, Cavanaugh said. 

At the same hearing on senior citizen ID theft, privacy expert Marc Rotenberg testified there is "no other form of personal identification that poses a greater risk to personal privacy."

"Given the rising frequency of health care data breaches, the use of SSNs on Medicare cards places an already vulnerable population at even greater risk for identity theft," added Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

In 2015, there were 253 health care organization breaches that compromised more than 112 million records in total, according to a Forbes analysis of Health and Human Services Department statistics. 

ID theft victims lost a collective $15.4 billion in 2014, according to the most current Bureau of Justice and Statistics cost estimate. 

That’s not to say doing away with SSNs is a doomed-to-fail proposition for the federal bureaucracy. 

The Pentagon stopped printing Social Security numbers on all Defense Department ID cards by June 2011 and will substitute new identifiers. The Veterans Affairs Department rolled out new VA health ID cards in 2014 that do not store SSNs in card magnetic strips or barcodes.

NEXT STORY: Smartphone Encryption is a Luxury

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.