Social Security Numbers Widely Available

By David Bruggeman
October 29, 2008

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), many bulk and online public records contain Social Security Numbers (SSNs), exposing many people to an increased risk of identity theft. Responding to a request from Senator Charles Schumer, the GAO prepared a report addressing the following concerns:

  • (1) to what extent, for what reasons, and to whom are public records that may contain SSNs available for bulk purchase and online, and
  • (2) what measures have been taken to protect SSNs that may be contained
    in these records

The GAO sampled state and local government and business records practices and determined the following estimates:

  • Eighty-five percent of the largest counties make records with full or partial SSNs available in bulk or online. Smaller counties do this much less of the time (roughly 41 percent).
  • Of the counties that make records available in bulk or online, roughly 16 percent of them place any restrictions on the entities that can use these records.

State and local governments are taking steps to safeguard SSNs in their records, but redacting these numbers in all records takes time. Congress has wrestled with legislation that would address this issue, but there is a tension between open access to public records and the need to preserve individual privacy that has yet to be resolved to the point that a bill can move forward.

USACM Executive Committee member, and Professor of Software Engineering at N.C. State Annie Anton, testified on SSN issues on behalf of USACM last year.