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Social Security Numbers and Drivers Licenses – Protecting Privacy

IP-5-1997 ( February 1997)
Author: Robert Ellis Smith

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Executive Summary

The federal immigration reform legislation passed in the summer of 1996 affects the privacy rights of all Americans, even if they are native born citizens. The new law requires:

  1. Americans must provide Social Security numbers to apply for or renew a state drivers license beginning October 1, 2000. If not, the license cannot be used for federal identification purposes.
  2. States must display the number on the license itself or embed it within the document for reading by electronic means.

Disclosing ones Social Security number can be dangerous. With easy access to Social Security numbers, criminals and other privacy invaders can easily access the data banks that keep information on individuals, and can even “steal” a persons identity.
States can take the following steps to protect their citizens privacy:

  1. Encourage their Congressional delegation to repeal the portion of the federal immigration law which purports to deal with illegal immigration by cracking down on American citizens.
  2. Allow people not to provide a SSN if they wish not to, on the understanding that their licenses will not be accepted by Federal agencies as identification.
  3. Take advantage of the provision of the federal law which allows states to choose not to put the social security number on the drivers license, as long as the number is collected from license applicants.