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How To Stop Businesses Storing SSNs Indefinitely? 505

Posted by kdawson
from the not-so-secret dept.
The Angry Mick writes "My wife and I recently moved, and during the course of providing change-of-address information to the many companies we do business with, I asked each if they were storing a full Social Security number in their databases, and if so, could they remove it or replace it with an alternate identifier. Neither the experience nor the results were particularly enjoyable. On the positive end of the spectrum, some companies were more than willing to make a change, even offering suggestions for a suitable alternate such as a driver's license number. In the middle were companies that made things a little more difficult, requiring several steps up the management tree before speaking to someone with some actual authority to address the issue. Then there was DirectTV. This company not only flatly refused to consider the suggestion, but also informed me that even if I were to discontinue service with them, they still intended to keep my full SSN on file indefinitely. There is no logical reason for them to do this, and I'm not keen on the idea of being left vulnerable to identity theft should they have experience any security breaches at any future point in my life. So, my questions to the Slashdot community are: Has anyone else tried getting your SSN replaced or removed in corporate databases, and what were your experiences? And short of Armageddon, is there any way to force a company to erase your SSNs after you cease doing business with them, or is this a job for a lawyer or regulatory body?"
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How To Stop Businesses Storing SSNs Indefinitely?

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  • Bad news. XD (Score:3, Informative)

    by BlueKitties (1541613) <bluekitties616@gmail.com> on Friday August 14, 2009 @09:55AM (#29064895)
    Some (financial) Point Of Sale software I designed uses SSNs to tell the difference between customers with identical names. If I change the SSN... it thinks you're a new customer. Well... this is something to think about.
    • Re:Bad news. XD (Score:5, Informative)

      by dintech (998802) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:05AM (#29065021)

      I was wondering if there was anything equivalent to the Data Protection Act [wikipedia.org] in the America:

      • Data may only be used for the specific purposes for which it was collected.
      • Data must not be disclosed to other parties without the consent of the individual whom it is about, unless there is legislation or other overriding legitimate reason to share the information (for example, the prevention or detection of crime). It is an offence for Other Parties to obtain this personal data without authorisation.
      • Individuals have a right of access to the information held about them, subject to certain exceptions (for example, information held for the prevention or detection of crime).
      • Personal information may be kept for no longer than is necessary and must be kept up to date.
      • Personal information may not be sent outside the European Economic Area unless the individual whom it is about has consented or adequate protection is in place, for example by the use of a prescribed form of contract to govern the transmission of the data.
      • Subject to some exceptions for organisations that only do very simple processing, and for domestic use, all entities that process personal information must register with the Information Commissioner's Office.
      • Entities holding personal information are required to have adequate security measures in place. Those include technical measures (such as firewalls) and organisational measures (such as staff training).
      • Subjects have the right to have factually incorrect information corrected (note: this does not extend to matters of opinion).
      • Re:Bad news. XD (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192) * on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:22AM (#29065245) Journal

        No, in America we use the free market system. Which means the system is free to market your data any way they want.

        • Re:Bad news. XD (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dnahelicase (1594971) on Friday August 14, 2009 @11:03AM (#29065809)
          Do you think they actually delete your SSN anyway? I can see two things happening: 1) customer service tells you "yes, we can do that" and doesn't do anything or 2) somebody makes a note to change your SSN to XXX and then enters it in a system that keeps a change log that stores SSN to XXX. Unless they have a system for specifying different rules for SSN's, I think all customer information change would probably show up at least in a change log. Of course, I imagine most cust serv reps just tell you what you want to hear while you are on the phone with them.
      • Re:Bad news. XD (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:29AM (#29065345) Journal

        It's Burn-Karma-Friday!

        In scary America: (Slight exaggeration)
        All data is now subordinated to Stopping Terrorists. All other uses are bonuses.
        Data must be disclosed upon request without the consent of the individual, unless legislation provides a reason not to share the data, AND no current executive order exists allowing the override of that legislation.
        Individuals have no right to access the info about them, subject to certain exceptions.
        Personal info must be kept longer than necessary, and may not be up to date.

        • Re:Bad news. XD (Score:5, Informative)

          by NickGnome (1073080) on Friday August 14, 2009 @12:49PM (#29067411)
          "There must be a way for an individual to prevent information about him that was obtained for one purpose from being used or made available for other purposes without his consent."--- Elliot Richardson 1973 summarizing _Records, Computers, & the Rights of Citizens_ (quoted in Legislative History PL 93-579, Privacy Act of 1974, _Congressional Record_ vol 120, Senate Report #93-1183 pg 6924)

          In practice, as you say, even the weak constitutional and statutory protections of privacy are most often ignored.

          http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/42/408.html

          http://www.usdoj.gov/04foia/privstat.htm

          http://www.cavebear.com/nsf-dns/pa_history.htm

          http://www.cavebear.com/nsf-dns/5usc552a.htm

          http://www.cms.hhs.gov/privacyact/patraining.asp

          http://www.cms.hhs.gov/privacyact/pa.pdf

          http://www.so.doe.gov/documents/privactof1974.pdf

          http://www.epic.org/privacy/laws/privacy_act.html

          https://www.cnet.navy.mil/privacyact1974.pdf

          http://library.lp.findlaw.com/articles/file/00007/004477/title/subject/topic/constitutional%20law_freedom%20of%20information/filename/constitutionallaw_1_88

          http://library.lp.findlaw.com/articles/file/00007/004477/title/subject/topic/constitutional%20law_freedom%20of%20information/filename/constitutionallaw_1_88

          http://www.cpsr.org/cpsr/privacy/ssn/ssn.faq.html

          http://www.cpsr.org/program/natlID/natlIDfaq.html

      • Re:Bad news. XD (Score:4, Informative)

        by Sun.Jedi (1280674) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:34AM (#29065417) Journal

        There is not much [wikipedia.org]. This excerpt, In general terms, in the U.S., whoever can be troubled to key in the data, is deemed to own the right to store and use it, even if the data were collected without permission, is particularly disturbing.

        Data may only be used for the specific purposes for which it was collected.

        While you may THINK the data was collected for either a sale, long term lease agreements (similar to cable service), or whatnot... the ACTUAL specific purpose was to track you and sell your information to "partners".

        Data must not be disclosed to other parties without the consent of the individual whom it is about

        This is where the "partners" come in ... See JCpenny and SBS [google.com] for an example of 1 company using your information and giving it to a partner company.

        Personal information may be kept for no longer than is necessary and must be kept up to date.

        Too bad its not supposed to be deleted if it can't be confirmed in given period of time. Also, SSNs don't expire, so you get off thier list if you die. Yay.

        • "Also, SSNs don't expire, so you get off thier list if you die. "

          This is not necessarily true. My mother died in the year 2000 and we still occasionally get in the mail offers from a company that kept her SSN. We told them she is dead but they keep sending stuff anyway. We've given up and are willing to let them continue to waste their money.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by umghhh (965931)
        unless of course it is a tax office (or some other god like institution) that has a free ride and does not even need a court order to invide your privacy and all this of course for your own good.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by HiThere (15173)

        At one time one was not supposed to use the SSN for anything not involving the Social Security Administration. That was a long time ago. I was told that it was originally illegal, but I don't know that this was really so.

        N.B.: This was specifically the SSN. Don't generalize it to other kinds of data, which have largely never been regulated.

    • by jackb_guppy (204733) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:14AM (#29065127)

      There is no reason for a POS to have SSN. There are many other methods to get uniqueness.

      When companies ask for it, I request for what use do they have for it. I have left hospitals for requesting the information, for they have no need for the information.

      But to ask a person doing a POS transaction for their SSN, is just plan broken.

      • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:28AM (#29065309) Homepage Journal
        This isn't really in defense of the hospitals, but a WHOLE LOT of people use the hospital because they can't pay for medical attention and the hospital can't refuse. The SSN is likely there so they can track you down to the ends of the Earth to try and get their money.
        • by snspdaarf (1314399) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:53AM (#29065673)
          We had people from a regional hospital come to our office for free PSA testing. When I asked about the need for an SSN on their form, I was told they used it for patient tracking. I left it blank, and they told me it was mandatory. Well, there was no threat of perjury statement on the form, and no signature, so I gave them a fake one. Fuck 'em. They don't need my SSN if they have my name, phone number, and the doctor I want the results sent to.
          • by fataugie (89032) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:56AM (#29065705) Homepage

            So it was you who gave them my SS#!
            You insensative Clod!

          • by wamerocity (1106155) on Friday August 14, 2009 @11:50AM (#29066589) Journal
            What's even funnier is that the USPSTF has recommended AGAINST random PSA screening in individuals who are not already high risk (above 50, history of family prostate cancer) due to low positive predictive value and high false positive rates. The reasoning is that since you are more likely to get a false positive if you are not high risk, you will then spend unnecessary money on treatment, procedures (including biopsies which can put you at additional risk, AND if caught early they haven't been shown to increase your lifespan. I.E. Prostate cancer caught early is as treatable as prostate cancer caught later when true symptoms show up. Just an FYI if anyone cares.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by SkyDude (919251)

            so I gave them a fake one.

            And I've done the same thing. The SSN is used by the medical records companies that are operated similar to credit bureaus. As with credit bureaus, the SSN is not the primary method of ID, but it helps sort out people with the same name. Medical records are far more detailed than your credit history. You'd be amazed what's in them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ThatsNotFunny (775189)
          Having worked in an admissions department at a hospital, I can tell you that SNNs are rarely verified by admissions personnel. Equal parts laziness due to job dissatisfaction and lack of time due to overwhelming workload. We would key in whatever number the patient gave us. It would be quite easy to provide a fake number and the hospital would not be aware.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by CastrTroy (595695)
          That's funny I usually just provide my health card, and then I don't have to worry about giving out my social insurance number. I also don't have to worry about paying.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Mr. No Skills (591753)

          This is bad policy, since many potential hospital "customers" don't have an SSN. Hospitals have to service newborns, visitors, illegals, etc. Using SSN as the unique ID doesn't work, and they usually have work-arounds for this.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        How about we scrap SSN's and have transaction ids. The taxpayer gives whatever business their current transaction id, then requests a new one from the government invalidating the old one. That old one is then only worth a damn from the time it was issued to the time a new one was requested. The government keeps a list of all your transaction ids, and the dates during which they were valid. NO SSN REQUIRED. Care would be taken not to issue the same transaction_id while it is still valid for someone els
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mh1997 (1065630)
          How about we just scrap social security and then we wouldn't need SSNs. Or allow people to opt out of social security and those people that opted out would not need an SSN.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stonewallred (1465497)
        I have local power under a false name and SS number. I have cable under a different false name and SS. My local phone service was under yet another false name and SS number. I pay all my bills on time, using cash, and with the exception of the utility company, I had to pay no deposit or give them a credit card number, which would not have been a problem, as all of my names have credit cards. I went through a spell with no insurance and ended up at the emergency room with a serious cut. When they asked me my
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HogGeek (456673)

      The SSN was never intended to be used this way. If it was your choice to use the SSN in ANY database, you should be beat, if it was somebody else, please identify them.

        It is this type of abuse and use of SSN numbers that has helped enabled identity fraud.

    • No offense, but I've always suspected that the biggest reason companies have irresponsible policies like the one described in the OP is because of irresponsible programming like you just described.

      In order to perform collision detection, there is absolutely no reason that you couldn't track the SSN separately from the primary key on your "customers".

      I'm not big on regulation, but there really should be a law preventing the usage of SSN as a PK in any data storage schema.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eskarel (565631)

        And what would you suggest as an alternative? The SSN is the only unique number that a US citizen has, and every US citizen has one. Sometimes you need a PK which actually identifies someone, not just one which identifies the record in your database.

        The problem with SSN's and identity theft is verifying that an SSN belongs to a person not the SSN itself, if you replace the SSN with someone other number which is sufficiently unique as to identify you as an individual it's sufficiently unique for someone to

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DrLang21 (900992)
          Why would need a PK that does more than identify a record if you have a field that can be searched in that record that identifies the person? Moreover, why not just issue your own account numbers?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mrjb (547783)

          And what would you suggest as an alternative?

          As primary key, a UUID [wikipedia.org] makes more sense than a number such as an SSN which can change (yes it can- I'm down to my third by now). No need to make that UUID public or even let people know what it is; you *can* look people up by (a combination of ) other bits of information. If someone doesn't want to provide their SSN, you can use their Full Name+Date of Birth for searching - this combination will usually render very few collisions.
          Technical solutions aside, I'm

  • by Anonymusing (1450747) on Friday August 14, 2009 @09:56AM (#29064915)

    Lately it seems everyone wants to know my SSN: my dentist, my grocery store, my heating fuel supplier, the guy who changes my oil, etc. When credit checks are required, I ask them to try running it without the SSN (just address data) and often they will try. Other times, they are simply using the SSN as a convenient identifier for customers -- !!!! -- so I politely suggest a different number, or insist on only giving 3-4 digits of it. Thankfully my health insurance company will generate an internal ID# for you, if you request it, so that your SSN is not printed on your insurance card and therefore stored at your physician's office.

    Other than to the government, and to organizations directly attached to my banking needs, what's wrong with giving a different number in place of the SSN? As long as you can remember it, that is. Would that be considered some kind of fraud?

    • by pz (113803) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:01AM (#29064977) Journal

      Back in the early 1980s -- yes, nearly 30 years ago -- MIT allowed students to refuse to have their SS numbers as their Institute ID numbers. In those cases, and also for foreign students who nominally don't have SS numbers, they issued numbers that passed the SS check, but were from an otherwise unallocated block. They cleverly encoded your class year into the number to boot. For a long time I gave my MIT ID number when non-finance-related institutions requested an SS. Worked fine.

      I haven't had an active MIT ID for a long while, so don't know what they do now.

      • by jDeepbeep (913892) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:10AM (#29065069)

        MIT allowed students to refuse to have their SS numbers as their Institute ID numbers.

        A technical college I attended in Arizona was slightly different. They did allow you to use your SSN for your student ID, however, if you did so, every 4 months you were sent a letter that explained why this was a bad idea, for the student, to persist in doing this, and it closed out with a paragraph urging you to change it to something different.

    • by moose_hp (179683) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:18AM (#29065191) Homepage
      I'm not trying to be a troll here, this is an honest question.

      I'm not from the United States, nor I live there, but I never got why exactly is a SSN supposed to be secret, is it possible to do identity theft with only the SSN alone? Here in Mexico we have a ton of personal identification numbers (RFC, CURP, IFE number, Passport, Drivers License, Military Service, Social Security, Professional Certificate, etc) and none of them is really supposed to be secret, I don't get why people from the USA a secret number that you're not supposed to divulge, yet you need to give up for reasons like cable TV contracts and there's chaos when something like a database of SSN got leaked .
      • by jDeepbeep (913892) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:35AM (#29065431)

        is it possible to do identity theft with only the SSN alone?

        Unfortunately, yes. It provides enough of a building block (used both as an identifier and as an authenticator) to allow a moderately-clever person to build up the rest of the identity.

      • by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:40AM (#29065487)

        It's not. It's supposed to be unique (within certain criteria: they do get reused eventually) across everyone in the USA, so the Social Security Administration can identify everyone. That's all it was designed for.

        It just happened that the SSN was the first major government number that everyone was required to have. So everyone else used the fact that it was there and unique to make their lives easier. Which means that now everybody tracks you by that number, and if you have that number you can impersonate anyone in any database that uses it.

        It's not supposed to be secret. It's not supposed to be your full ID. It just became that.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by radtea (464814)

          It just happened that the SSN was the first major government number that everyone was required to have.

          The same is true of the Social Insurance Number (SIN) in Canada, and I don't think I've ever divulged mine to anyone who wasn't my employer, my accountant, or the Canada Revenue Agency.

          So the question in my mind is why Americans have allowed their SSN's to be used in these ways, while in Canada we've not allowed a similar number to be used in similar ways? I don't think I've ever given my SIN to my cell

          • by Wee (17189)
            Having lived in the US my impression is that this is a cultural difference: Americans value convenience much more than Canadians (which probably explains why the US has somewhat higher productivity than Canada) and that the bellicosity of American culture has normalized intimidation and bullying as a means of social interaction, so American businesses are more likely to try to bully customers into giving up inappropriate information, and individual Americans are more likely to go the convenient route and gi
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by duffbeer703 (177751)

            Having lived in the US my impression is that this is a cultural difference: Americans value convenience much more than Canadians (which probably explains why the US has somewhat higher productivity than Canada) and that the bellicosity of American culture has normalized intimidation and bullying as a means of social interaction, so American businesses are more likely to try to bully customers into giving up inappropriate information, and individual Americans are more likely to go the convenient route and gi

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by telso (924323)
          Actually, SSNs do not get reused [ssa.gov]. I recently met someone who works for the SSA who told me that they are currently trying to figure out what to do about this. The obvious solution -- increasing the number of digits, like what happened recently to the ISBN -- takes a lot infrastructural changes, both in government and the private sector. He said congressmen often told the SSA "Just do it!" and used things like this as an example of how bureaucracy is slow and inefficient, but that most of them now underst
      • by MirthScout (247854) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:53AM (#29065665)

        That's actually a good question. The answer is , no, it is not supposed to be secret. It is an identifier; identifiers are not secret.

        The problem is that so many companies misuse SSNs. They treat them as if they were passwords.
        What is your name? John Smith
        What is your SSN? 123-45-6789
        OK, you must be John Smith all right. What can I do for you?

        It is this completely broken way that companies "verify" your identity that is the problem. People try to keep their SSN secret to reduce the chances an "identity thief" will get it and use a company's and/or bank's broken procedures to steal from you.

      • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@@@comcast...net> on Friday August 14, 2009 @11:50AM (#29066583)

        Many years back I worked as a skiptracer / fraud researcher for a well known credit card company. The short of the answer is that with a social security number a person can readily learn a persons private financial details by pulling a credit report.

        There is no mechanism that prevents companies from doing so, they 'self authenticate' as it were. Unlike a person who must provide details to prove that they really are who they claim they are. All a business has to do either claim you have given your consent or that you owe them money and they gain full access to your private credit report.

        With a credit report alone I can tell everything from what kind of car you own (as most people finance) to where you live, where you have lived, what your lifestyle choices are, where you shop and so on. It's a pretty thorough invasion of privacy. Using additional services I can gain other information about you such as property you own, tax records, court records, family records, residence, an unscrupulous person could even find out your health records. In ten to fifteen minutes I have a very telling picture of your life, whether you want someone to have it or not.

        The bottom line is that with a social security number there is very little about a person that cannot be readily discerned in a very short period of time. Unethical people will quickly cross the line, checking things that they shouldn't or, even stealing your identity.

    • by lazlo (15906) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:50AM (#29065631) Homepage

      Something I've considered, it seems that SSN's are being used very similarly to passwords. Make sure to use good security practices and change yours every 60 days.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by db32 (862117)
      I see this problem as backwards. People are scrambling to fight this nonsense uphill battle. The cat is out of the bag. Pandora's box has been opened. It is WAY too late to get all of this stuff back. The only way forward is for SSNs to become worthless as identifiers. This personal information is quickly becoming trivial to obtain, fighting the trend is only going to continue to make it a problem for identity theft.

      The real answer is to hold businesses to the fire for exposing/trading/selling it an
    • by MidnightPsycho (827920) on Friday August 14, 2009 @12:32PM (#29067177)

      > so I politely suggest a different number, or insist on only giving 3-4 digits of it.

      I tried this once with Verizon. I was signing up for a new account, in person, at the Verizon store. They wanted my SSN, and I told them I wouldn't take the account if I had to give that out.

      They said no problem. The salesman called their credit dept, and handed the phone to me. They asked my name & address, and asked for the last 4 digits of my SSN.

      They were searching some database - they found me by last name & address, and they only wanted the last 4 digits to verify that they found me. And I am sure they put my SSN into my account while I was on the phone.

      I don't think it helps to keep SSN's from these businesses . . . they can grab them without needing to get them from you.

  • Here's a 36 page document outlining your "Federal and State Laws Restricting the Use of SSNs" [gao.gov] and identifies the gaps. The GAO actually has some good reading and ammunition for this if you've got the time [gao.gov]. And here's the really dry "Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (Identity Theft Act)" itself [ftc.gov]. Now, stronger stuff has been presented in 2005 [loc.gov] but aside from stiffer penalties being signed into law in 2004, I haven't seen much.

    So, you could call them up and threaten them with prosecution u
    • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:07AM (#29065043)

      In 1998, Congress made identity theft a federal crime when it enacted the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (Identity Theft Act).5 The act made it a criminal offense for a person to "knowingly transfer, possess, or use without lawful authority," another person's means of identification "with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law." Under the act, a name or SSN is considered a "means of identification," and a number of cases have been prosecuted under this law.

      Now, with that, I would seek a lawyer who would take this case (maybe even some high profile lawyer or a member of the EFF) and clearly outline the above in a written letter with your signature informing them that they are in violation of the "Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (Identity Theft Act)" and if they do not remove your Social Security Numbers, you will take legal action. If your case is solid enough, you might be able to really stick it to DirectTV for storing personal private data "without lawful authority" as they do not have the written consent of every customer.

      Nothing in that quote suggests it is against the law for the company to retain the SSN in the course of lawful business, and as they are not intending to commit or aid or abet an unlawful activity, then your harshly worded letter would be meaningless.

      Of course, other laws may be quotable with better effect...

      • Nothing in that quote suggests it is against the law for the company to retain the SSN in the course of lawful business, and as they are not intending to commit or aid or abet an unlawful activity, then your harshly worded letter would be meaningless.

        So tell me, what are they intending to do with it? What he said of DirectTV:

        ... even if I were to discontinue service with them, they still intended to keep my full SSN on file indefinitely.

        And so what do they intend to do with it? Your business with them is complete. Now the only reason they have to keep it is for the purposes of tracking you and privacy invasion.

        Like I said in the original post, you'd need a good lawyer and you'd need a solid case. You would, of course, need to be creative and show that either 1) storing the data puts you at necessary risk of identity theft and it is therefore unlawful or

      • Indemnification (Score:5, Interesting)

        by zogger (617870) on Friday August 14, 2009 @11:10AM (#29065943) Homepage Journal

        I always turn it right around on them instantly whenever some merchant wants my number. I got nailed years ago with ID theft, which really sucks and takes a long time to fix, so I came up with something that has been working for me.

            I mention getting nailed previously, etc.,, then ask to see their indemnification policy on security breaches, in writing, so everything is "legal and proper".

          You get the *really* blank stare then, because about zero of these companies have anything like that..because they are jerks, but we all know that anyway.

            Let them sit for a bit and stew on that. Again, you throw it right back at them when they claim they are secure and "your data is safe with us" and all the other BS..."well, sir, we are secure, and...". They ALL say that, every single stupid company out there claims to be "secure". They initiate that claim when you ask. That's a *vital point* there. As part of this proposed business transaction now, they, through their rep who is talking to you right then and is prepared to accept your money, will make a statement that they are 'secure". This is the bingo moment.

            I go, along these lines, "swell, that sounds great! You are secure, wonderful, that makes me feel better because ID theft is such a hassle and expense! Err..uhh..just for my records then, please just show me and if you could provide me simple copy of your "data security" warranty provisions, the indemnification policy you must have then, thanks! And BTW, not that this will ever come up, but exactly how much cash do I get back from you when and if you get compromised? If you are "totally secure" as you claim, then you should have no problems with a guarantee that you are secure in writing".

          Salt to taste there, and I am never outright rude or obnoxious about it,(I will speak in a loud and clear tone though so any other customers present can hear this exchange) just make them backup their contractual claims they just made to you. They just offered you a proviso in the terms of an oral contract to go along with whatever written crap they want you to fill out that they are, in fact, "secure", so you can ask for proof and so on.

          The original clerk will be baffled as expected and will then pass the buck. Then just keep bumping it up the food chain until you hit some manager who doesn't want to be bothered and they give you the service without having to hork over your precious. Sometimes it's fast, other times it takes awhile, but usually it works.

            If some manager starts to get redneck on you, you can go, again, along these lines, "Oh, you now are withdrawing your offer, because your company lied to me? You tried to extract my cash from me based on a lie? That's serious legal fraud in this state my friend" and etc.

        Anyway, it usually works and it certainly is fun!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jeffshoaf (611794) *
      While I agree that DirecTV shouldn't have their customers' Social Security # (and I'm a customer), I don't believe the quote you provided from the GAO report says that they're doing something illegal per the part I've emphasized below:

      In 1998, Congress made identity theft a federal crime when it enacted the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (Identity Theft Act).5 The act made it a criminal offense for a person to "knowingly transfer, possess, or use without lawful authority," another person's means of identification "with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law." Under the act, a name or SSN is considered a "means of identification," and a number of cases have been prosecuted under this law.

      DirecTV can simply claim that they have no intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or use the SS# in connection with an unlawful activity.

  • PIPEDA (Score:3, Informative)

    by holophrastic (221104) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:00AM (#29064963)

    .P.I.P.E.D.A.
    Canadian regulation that in short says any business has to divulge any personal information of yours that they are storing, and allow you to change or remove it. It may be with a simple web-site form, it may be with a written letter, but that's the law.

  • by pedestrian crossing (802349) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:01AM (#29064965) Homepage Journal
    Information wants to be free.
    • Yes, this is true. Information is slippery: it's easy to copy and hard to contain.

      This is why a non-encrypted, non-authenticated short sequence of digits that you give out to many different companies is a terrible thing to use as a secret access code for financial-identity verification.

      The fact that companies want your SSN, use it as an identifier, and store it indefinitely is bad. But the really bad part is that the SSN has so much power in the first place. At this point the SSN should just be downgr
  • It's not like your SSN is top-secret these days anyway.

  • by Bromskloss (750445) <auxiliary,address,for,privacy&gmail,com> on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:01AM (#29064975)

    Your SSN has expired, please choose a new one.
    Old SSN: __________________
    New SSN: __________________
    Retype new SSN (tip: copy from above): __________________

  • Not gonna happen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FlyingBishop (1293238) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:02AM (#29064999)

    As someone currently working on a database that contains SSNs, I can tell you I couldn't get rid of every instance of yours if I tried. The entire architecture is based around not losing your data no matter how stupid I am. It's a nice thought, but the reality is that you're only increasing the number of people looking at your SSN by trying to get rid of it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by clam666 (1178429)

      That's why SSNs should never be used as primary keys. They are a lookup field to provide a pseudo-unique way of looking up a tied-to-a-individual record much like you might use a last name, an account number, or some other piece of information that can find an actual record entry tied to for transactional purposes.

      Primary/Foreign keys should be used to establish a unique record for transactional purposes or to relate to another record for referential integrity. That's all they should be used for.

      Social se

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Read This, I hope it helps!

    http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs10a-SSNFAQ.htm

  • The Social Security Administration doesn't accept paranoia as a criterion for granting a new card, but it recognizes cultural objections and religious pleas. One stratagem: Contend that your credit has been irrevocably damaged by a number-related snafu, or that you live in fear of a stalker who knows your digits. Once you switch your SSN, never use it. Instead, dole out 078-05-1120, an Eisenhower-era card that works 99 percent of the time.
  • go to the Social Security office and turn in my SSN card and say "here, that this back, I want out!, delete me from your database."
  • you're confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Friday August 14, 2009 @10:25AM (#29065281) Homepage

    SSNs are not secrets. They are not authentication credentials.

    Storing (or even leaking) SSNs is not the problem. The problem is when certain negligent organizations use knowledge of SSNs as some sort of proof of identity. If you're worried about your SSN being misused, talk to those companies.

    • Why?

      Why not - and I mean this seriously - sue them for libel when they bring action for identity theft against you?

      You can very easily demonstrate that the SSN is not a proof of identity (authentication). You can (or should be able to) easily demonstrate that a company which relies on SSN for identity authentication is negligent of its fiduciary duty to protect the assets of its stockholders. Toward the libel charge, you should be able to demonstrate that the company *should have known* there was str

  • During my most recent trip to the midwest, I ended up flying DELTA, although I had purchased Northwest tickets initially. Now, I'm waiting for one of my flights from Charlotte NC to Chicago IL. I am accosted by one of the DELTA "SkyTeam" who is trying (heroically) to sell me on their SkyMiles, and get me enrolled.

    So, I take a look at the enrollment form, and not surprisingly, it has SSN as a required field. I ask this guy (he couldn't have been more than 22 years old) why on earth he wants my SSN so I ca
  • try this (Score:3, Funny)

    by Khashishi (775369) on Friday August 14, 2009 @02:30PM (#29068949) Journal

    Here's a couple things you can try:
    DROP TABLE customers
    DROP TABLE accounts
    DROP TABLE users

  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Friday August 14, 2009 @02:43PM (#29069101)

    One should be careful giving out fake SSNs, as you may be accused of attempted identity theft or fraud or whatnot. But, who's to say you or some data entry person didn't make a mistake and mistype one of the numbers, or transpose two of the numbers? Looks like an innocent mistake, I say! If you do it consistently enough, you can even use the excuse, "God, that typo has been following me around forever!"

    I'm just sayin'.

    I also use my old phone numbers and addresses for those who require such information. "Oh, that's my _old_ number!" :)

  • Create a corporation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Restil (31903) on Friday August 14, 2009 @03:35PM (#29069769) Homepage

    That will give you a tax number you can provide for all these services that seem to require one. Also, if the corporation's identity somehow gets stolen, well, you just trash it and get a new one. It's not the cheapest option available, but it will at least keep your personal information private.

    Just an idea.

    -Restil

  • by laughingskeptic (1004414) on Friday August 14, 2009 @04:25PM (#29070493)

    Many of our peers here are the ones designing databases with SSN keys. Stop doing that! Hash the SSNs with a seed using MD5 or a stronger algorithm (or weaker if there is the possiblity that on rare occasions you will need to brute force the original SSN out). If you are required to validate against a subset of the number, store that hashed also. Done consistently you can use the hash to uniquely identify your customer without having to store the SSN in plain text.

    The U.S. Government should tax the storage of SSN numbers. We could start at 2 cents per day per instance. Once the tax is enacted, it will be a perpetual risk for businesses that this tax rate will go up and there will be an obvious business case for coming up with other methods for identifying customers.

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