FTC Questions Use of SSNs

Study aims to restrict unnecessary use of Social Security information

Does Wal-Mart really need your Social Security number to process your purchase of a George Foreman grill? Should your bank really be using your Social Security number as a password?

These are some of the questions that the Federal Trade Commission began asking this week with the introduction of a new study that is asking some serious questions about the use of Social Security data in the private sector.

Back in April, the FTC published a strategic plan to combat identity theft. One of the plan's conclusions was that the private sector is overusing the Social Security number, making it easier for thieves to collect more data and gain access to more user accounts than they would if they only had a name and address.

Through a month-long study that ends Sept. 5, the FTC is accepting comments from businesses, the financial services industry, law enforcement agencies, consumer reporting companies, academics, and consumer advocates. The goal is to find out how Social Security information is being used in the private sector, and whether those uses are truly necessary.

The FTC is inviting interested parties "to comment on the various uses of SSNs by the private sector, the necessity of those uses, alternatives available, the challenges faced by the private sector in moving away from using SSNs, and how SSNs are obtained and used by identity thieves," according to a statement issued on Monday.

The Commission did not say how it will act on the data it collects, but it's likely that the study will eventually result in further guidelines and restrictions on how businesses use Social Security data.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading