Beyond what is being mandated, SSNs aren't good identifiers because:
- They aren't mandatory, even for U.S. residents
- They aren't unique. The are supposed to be, but they aren't
- They change. A person can have multiple SSNs over time.
- They can divulge personal information that may not be needed in a
process that uses them. For instance, many who use SSNs in their jobs
can tell from years of processing (or looking it up) where the SSN was
initially granted (often region of birth), whether or not the person is
a U.S. resident, whether or not the person participates in a federal
disability program, etc. This may lead to unintentional ranking of
'real' SSNs over things like tax IDs and other pseudo SSNs (as happened
at my former University on a regular basis).
- There is a great deal of mis-information about what forms a 'real'
SSN, which can lead to undue harassment of those holding what some
believe are fake SSNs. For instance, many believe incorrectly that
valid SSNs never have an odd number in the fifth position from the left.
A friend who had an SSN with an odd number there was turned away from
exams twice because the proctors had been told that having an odd number
in that position meant it was a fake ID.
- Using them for non-financial reasons puts 'owners' of SSNs at undue
risk for identity theft and just plain snooping.
- Using them for non-SS reasons places an extra burden on processors and
record keepers to protect their confidentiality. It also opens up more
potential liability for harm.
- SSNs are used by some organizations as public identifiers (i.e.
posting grades by SSNs) and others use them as authentication devices
(plug in your SSN and get info about your taxes via the phone). These
two very common uses are contradictory and lead to abuse.
More info on SSNs as identifiers:
> -----Original Message-----
> From: The EDUCAUSE CIO Constituent Group Listserv
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Upton, Bev (UPTONBJ)
> Sent: Wednesday, September 04, 2002 4:21 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: [CIO] Social Security Number Use in HE
> Here at the University of Cincinnati, we are interested in
> understanding where other institutions stand with using SSN
> as an identifier in data systems (as opposed to using it
> where mandated, IRS and Financial Aid). Please respond
> briefly to any of these questions that apply.
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