No laws keep SSNs off the Internet
How do I get my Social Security number off the Internet? I looked my name up on a Google search and found it on there! Is this possible?
Answer: The state administration this year is proposing some restrictions on how Social Security numbers can be disseminated.
But even with all the concern about identity theft these days, "there is no federal law that would govern dissemination of" Social Security numbers on the Internet, said Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.
That was confirmed by representatives of the Social Security Administration.
An Internet search turned up dozens of Web sites offering to provide personal information for a fee. The Records Registry, for example, touts itself as the "No. 1 Detective and Web Investigation Site" and "the ultimate source to quickly and conveniently find all Social Security numbers and related records/information."
Because Social Security numbers have been an "identifier for years and years and years," they are "on a lot of public documents and a lot of private businesses have used it," Levins said. "It's out there on the Internet, because a lot of information has been converted" to computer files.
While there is no federal law regulating how the numbers may or may not be disseminated, there are restrictions in certain specific instances. For example, Levins said, a medical provider cannot be giving out such personal information to an unauthorized person.
But "as a general proposition," be warned that such personal information is out there as public record.
The state administration is proposing a bill to restrict the ability of businesses to use Social Security numbers "for what we would consider inappropriate purposes," such as providing an "identifier" when there doesn't need to be one, Levins said.
And if a Social Security number is "going to be transmitted over the Internet, it has to be done so in a manner that respects and safeguards the individual's privacy," under the proposed bill, he said.
The Social Security Administration has no similar legislation pending. Most of its legislation deals with how government agencies can or cannot use the numbers, explained regional communications director Leslie Walker.
"We advise individuals that if you're going to give somebody your Social Security number, you really want to question what the use is for -- Do they sell it? How are they going to protect it? -- questions like that," said local spokeswoman Christina Messner.
The basic advice from state and federal officials is to take the well-publicized precautions to prevent identity theft.
"The Social Security Administration's position has always been to protect your number, don't carry your card in your wallet, only give it out when you absolutely have to in order to get a service you need," such as telephone service, Walker said.
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. See also: Useful phone numbers