Law enforcement agencies' efforts to investigate the events of September 11th increased awareness that federal agencies collect and maintain personal information on individuals such as name, social security number, and date of birth that could be useful to law enforcement. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is one of the country's primary custodians of personal information. Although the Privacy Act protects much of this information, generally, federal agencies can disclose information to law enforcement. However, determining when the need for disclosure takes priority over an individual's privacy is not clear. GAO was asked to describe (1) SSA's disclosure policy for law enforcement and how it compares with the Privacy Act and those of other federal agencies, (2) SSA's experience sharing information with law enforcement, and (3) law enforcement's experience obtaining information under SSA's policy.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Social Security Administration||To help ensure consistent application of SSA's disclosure policy for law enforcement in all of its offices and to better assist law enforcement agencies making disclosure requests, the Commissioner of SSA should take steps to eliminate confusion about the agency's disclosure policy. These steps could include clarifying SSA's policy; providing additional or refresher training to staff; or delegating decision-making authority for law enforcement requests to specified locations such as the OIG, regional privacy coordinators, or other units that SSA determines would have expertise in this area.|
|Social Security Administration||To help ensure consistent application of SSA's disclosure policy for law enforcement in all of its offices and to better assist law enforcement agencies making disclosure requests, the Commissioner of SSA should provide law enforcement with information on SSA's disclosure policy and procedures. For example, this information could be provided on its Web site, in informational pamphlets, or some other written format.|