Social Security Numbers: Federal and State Laws Restrict Use of SSNs, yet Gaps Remain

GAO-05-1016T Published: Sep 15, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 2005.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights

In 1936, the Social Security Administration established the Social Security number (SSN) to track worker's earnings for Social Security benefit purposes. Despite its narrowly intended purpose, the SSN is now used for a myriad of non-Social Security purposes. Today, SSNs are used, in part, as identity verification tools for services such as child support collections, law enforcement enhancements, and issuing credit to individuals. Although these uses can be beneficial to the public, the SSN is now a key piece of information in creating false identities. The aggregation of personal information, such as SSNs, in large corporate databases and the increased availability of information via the Internet may provide criminals the opportunities to commit identity theft. Although Congress and the states have enacted a number of laws to protect consumers' privacy, the public and private sectors' continued use of and reliance on SSNs, and the potential for misuse, underscore the importance of strengthening protections where possible. Accordingly, this testimony focuses on describing (1) the public use of SSNs, (2) the use of SSNs by certain private sector entities, and (3) certain federal and state laws regulating the use of SSNs and identity theft.

Full Report

GAO Contacts