The Washington Post reports on the prevalence of social security numbers in government documents. Federal courts banned the use of them on public documents in 2001, but governments regularly post pre-2001 documents with SSNs on public websites.
Social Security numbers are readily available in many courthouses -- in land records and criminal and civil case files -- as well as on many government Web sites that serve up public documents with a few clicks of a mouse. From state to state, and even within states, there is little uniformity in how access to the private information in these records is controlled.
A recent spot-check found the nine-digit numbers -- introduced in 1936 to track employee earnings and benefits -- on hundreds of land deeds, death certificates, traffic tickets, creditors' filings and other documents related to civil and criminal court cases.
For instance, SSNs were found on documents in 38 of 48 cases heard by a county court on a single day. I don't like it. I don't like it at all," said the court's clerk, Judith S. Waddell. "Would you like your Social Security number being disclosed to the public? I know I wouldn't."
It's alarming, because the government should be setting the example in really trying to protect people's private information," said state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery). "Look, there's a whole criminal underground now that thrives on stealing people's credit cards and usurping their identity for as long as they can."
Raskin plans to introduce a bill in the Maryland Assembly to tighten up state websites. Raskin learned about the issue when he got a call from activist BJ Ostergren, who runs TheVirginiaWatchdog.
She said, 'Do you know I was able to find your Social Security number and other private information about you and your wife online?' " Raskin said. "I was shocked, and I briefly flipped out, because, you know, these are days when everybody's privacy is under assault."
"The government loves to spoon-feed criminals by putting these dern records on their Web sites," Ostergren said.