Protection of Social Security Numbers

Issue: Protection of Social Security Numbers


Social Security Numbers (SSNs) are present in many state court documents and files.  Federal legislation prohibiting the unconditional acquisition and “display” of SSNs to the public would place a burden on some courts in maintaining these files as open public records.


State court leaders have expressed grave concern over the courts’ ability to meet the SSN redaction requirements in proposed privacy protection legislation and urge Congress to work with the Conferences to find effective solutions to this matter. 


Several legislative proposals would require the redaction of social security numbers found in ‘public’ documents.   


Then COSCA President James D. Gingerich testified before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security on 6/21/07.  The topic of the hearing was “Protecting the Privacy of the Social Security Number from Identity Theft.”

H.R. 3046 was introduced by then Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, Michael McNulty (D-NY), on 7/16/07.  H.R 3046 was approved by the full House Ways and Means Committee on 7/18/07.  H.R. 3046 requires that state/local governments including courts not sell or display SSNs if such a display is not a “statutory or regulatory” requirement.  This requirement is prospective:  1.5 years after enactment of the legislation.  We anticipate renewal of efforts to impose mandates on state courts regarding the redaction of SSNs in public records in the 111th Congress.

A hearing was held on 4/13/11 on the display of SSNs by the federal government in Medicare ID cards.  The chairman’s legislation, H.R. 1509, does not address the display of SSNs by state courts or state/local entities. Another hearing is held in the Senate on 6/29/11 on the topic of identity theft.  The two bills under consideration did not address the issue of SSN display for public or court documents.

Arizona and California SCAs met with staff to House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security on 11/17/11 to discuss ways courts are protecting SSNs via court rule.  The Subcommittee has not decided how they will address this issue yet.

On 5/22/13, Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen introduced a comprehensive SSN display bill (H.R. 2104), which has been referred to the Ways/Means and Judiciary Committees of the House.  H.R. 2104 would (1) amend the federal criminal code to prohibit the display, sale, or purchase of SSNs without the affirmatively expressed consent of the individual, except in specified circumstances; (2) establish a public records exception to the prohibition; (3) grant the Attorney General with rulemaking authority to enforce the Act's prohibition and to implement and clarify the permitted uses occurring as a result of an interaction between businesses, governments, or business and government; (4) prohibit a commercial entity from requiring an individual to provide a SSN when purchasing a commercial good or service or denying an individual the good or service for refusing to provide that number, with exceptions; (5) establish civil and criminal penalties; (6) extend civil monetary penalties for misuse of a SSN; and (7) authorize: (a) criminal penalties under SSA title II for the misuse of a SSN, (b) civil actions and civil penalties against persons who violate this Act, and (c) federal injunctive authority with respect to any violation by a public entity.

This issue has been preempted by the large number of data theft incidents from major retailers like Target, TJ Maxx, Neiman Marcus, and others. There have been a number of congressional hearings on these incidents. A 5/23/17 hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee focused only on a data breach in the federal government’s OPM website. 

Other congressional hearings have been held and they have solely focused on data breaches.