Responses to Questions From May 18th Hearing on Uses of Social Security Numbers

HEHS/AIMD-00-289R: Published: Aug 21, 2000. Publicly Released: Aug 21, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO responded to congressional questions regarding the May 18th hearing on the uses of social security numbers (SSN), focusing on the following questions: (1) what problems are caused when necessary SSNs are not included on tax forms submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); and (2) what actions federal agencies are taking in the area of using biometrics to identify individuals.

GAO noted that: (1) when SSNs are not included on tax forms, IRS cannot link the taxpayer's information to other relevant past or future records; (2) if IRS receives a tax return that does not contain the SSN of the primary taxpayer, the return is not to be processed until a SSN is obtained, generally by corresponding with the taxpayer; (3) if the return does not contain a SSN for a dependent child or a child for whom the taxpayer is claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit, the return is processed, but the taxpayer is not to be allowed a dependent exemption or any deductions or credit associated with the dependent, such as the credit for child and dependent care expenses and the child tax credit; (4) if taxpayers later provide the missing SSNs, they are to be allowed the dependent exemption and any credit associated with the SSN; (5) when SSNs are missing from information returns, such as forms 1099 for interest income and dividends, these are sent back to the payer; (6) a number of federal agencies are currently using or considering the use of biometrics, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, General Services Administration, and others; (7) biometric recognition provides automated methods of identifying a person on the basis of a physiological or behavioral characteristic; (8) various human characteristics are used for biometric recognition, including fingerprints, speech, face, retina, iris, handwritten signature, hand geometry, and wrist veins; (9) biometric recognition can be used for both identification and verification; (10) a biometric system can also be used to verify, or authenticate, a person's claimed identity by determining whether it matches his or her previously enrolled pattern; (11) possible uses also include control of physical access to restricted areas, network security, and computer security; (12) state and local governments have also implemented biometric technologies, primarily for use in the process of determining eligibility for public assistance benefits or entitlements; and (13) pilot programs in several states report that they have experienced significant savings by requiring biometric verification for individuals applying for public benefits.

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