A House panel today unanimously approved legislation to limit the
sale, purchase or public display of Social Security numbers (SSN). The bill
would apply to both the government and private sector in hopes of stemming the occurrence of identity theft.
Under The Social Security Number Privacy and Identity Theft Prevention Act,
the federal government would be prohibited from selling or displaying SSNs to
the general public, including on the Internet. Encryption or other security
measures would be required for transmission of Social Security numbers.
The prohibition would also prevent the government from using SSNs on checks,
Medicare cards and identification cards issued to government employees, as well as patients and students at public institutions.
The bill imposes the same restrictions on the private sector in addition to
prohibiting the unnecessary disclosure of another individual’s SSN to
government. The legislation would also prohibit a person from obtaining
another’s SSN for the purpose of harassment, harm or other illegal purpose.
“The use and abuse of Social Security numbers is rampant in our society,” bill
co-sponsor Sam Johnson (R-Texas) said. “The best way to stop Social Security
numbers from being compromised is to limit their availability in the first
place, and that is what this bill does.”
The bill also creates new criminal penalties of up to five years in prison for
violating the law on the display, sale, purchase or misuse of SSNs. Repeat
offenders could face up to 10 years in prison. Drug trafficking, crimes of
violence and terrorism involving the unauthorized use of SSNs could bring
prison terms of 20 to 25 years.
Social Security Administration employees who fraudulently sell SSNs would face
criminal penalties of up to five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
“Social Security numbers are available for sale on the Internet right now and
criminals have many opportunities to exploit that,” Louisiana Republican Jim
McCrery, another co-sponsor of the bill, said. “It is time to place some
common-sense limits on the use of Social Security numbers by government and
businesses in order to reduce their easy availability and ensure the privacy
of this sensitive information.”
Exceptions to the law for the government would include facilitating law
enforcement efforts or national security investigations, ensuring the accuracy
of credit and insurance information or for tax purposes.
In the private sector, exceptions are carved out for child support
investigations, health or safety emergency situations or the sale, lease or
merger of a business. In addition, SSNs can be transferred to others with the
express written consent of an individual.
For both the government and the private sector, further exceptions may be made
by additional regulations from the Social Security Administration, the
Department of Justice and state attorneys general.
Similar legislation is pending in the
Senate but no votes have been taken.