Opening Pandora’s box : the social security number from 1937-2018

Meiser, Kenneth Donaldson
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Social Security Numbers (SSNs) are an integral part of modern-day American life. The use of the SSN has expanded far beyond the original intent. This expansion has led to significant unintended consequences. This paper examines critical aspects of the Social Security Number: history and construction, expansion of use cases and the unintended consequences thereof, a review of federal studies and reports that outline the ongoing risk and describe efforts to reduce use of SSNs in federal programs. Additionally, the paper will compare the Social Security Number as a de-facto national identifier to other national identifying schemas and discuss why these other systems do not seem to pose the same risk to personal identity as the Social Security Number. Finally, the paper discusses a set of guiding principles for future use of the SSN, or if the SSN is replaced; operating principles for whatever future central identity system replaces it, in order to reduce the risk of fraud and misappropriation of identities that impact citizens, enterprises and the government.