Thanks to congressional indifference, private
Social Security numbers now are used by virtually all federal,
state and local government agencies as a de facto national ID. As
a result, once-private numbers intended only for the
administration of Social Security benefits have become widely used
in our daily lives.
Perhaps the worst abuser is the Internal Revenue
Service (IRS), which illegitimately uses Social Security numbers
as taxpayer ID numbers — an abuse certainly never intended by
Congress when the Social Security Administration was established.
Today the IRS acts in concert with the Social Security
Administration, by requiring the assignment of Social Security
numbers to infants before parents may claim a dependent deduction
on their taxes. I trust the majority of members of Congress still
understand that a free society should not be registering infants.
This abuse of private Social Security numbers
has led to a terrible loss of privacy and a troubling rise in
identity theft. Since one centralized government number identifies
virtually every American citizen, the private sector — including
banks, insurance companies, credit reporting agencies and other
businesses — predictably adopted the numbers to identify their
customers. In fact, federal law requires financial institutions to
obtain Social Security numbers from account holders.
The widespread dissemination of private numbers
makes it possible for unscrupulous persons to easily obtain a
victim’s Social Security number and access bank accounts, obtain
credit cards, and assume a false identity. Many Americans have
lost their life savings as a result of identity theft, yet
Congress continues to permit gross misuse of Social Security
Congress should pass sweeping legislation aimed
at eliminating widespread government privacy abuses and curbing
identity theft. I introduced The Identity Theft Prevention Act
(H.R. 220) to halt the misuse of Social Security numbers by the
federal government and provide all Americans a fresh start with
regard to their own personal and financial privacy. This
legislation will forbid the use of Social Security numbers by any
federal agency other than the Social Security Administration.
The act also places the same prohibition on
state and local governments, which have no business using federal
Social Security numbers in the first place. The premise is quite
simple: Social Security numbers should be used only for the
administration of Social Security benefits.
Furthermore, the act requires the Social
Security Administration to offer every American a new Social
Security number within five years. The confidentiality of existing
numbers has been destroyed; they are available in far too many
government and private databases. A clean slate is required to
provide Americans real personal and financial privacy. The new
numbers issued by the Social Security Administration will be
strictly confidential; all accrued retirement benefits will be
transferred to the new number.
It is time to start over with regard to Social
Security numbers in this country. The federal government, not the
private sector, is by far the worst invader of our privacy.
Legislation is needed to reverse the terrible trend toward a
government surveillance society — and the first step in that
reversal must be to halt the use of Social Security numbers as
The government has broken its promise of Social
Security number confidentiality, resulting in the steady erosion
of personal privacy and a rise in identity theft. Congress can
take the first step to restore privacy by requiring the federal
government to keep Social Security numbers strictly confidential.
Rep. Paul, a Republican from Texas, is vice
chair of the Financial Services Oversight and Investigations