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Rice Opening Statement at Joint Hearing on Protecting Americans’ Identities: Examining Efforts to Limit the Use of Social Security Numbers

May 23, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Member Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) today delivered the following opening statement at a Subcommittee hearing entitled “Protecting Americans’ Identities: Examining Efforts to Limit the Use of Social Security Numbers.”

CLICK HERE to watch the hearing.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Good afternoon and welcome to today’s hearing on the federal government’s use of Social Security numbers. Unfortunately, Chairman Johnson was unable to be here today to discuss one of his favorite topics – ending the unnecessary use of Social Security numbers. I would like to welcome Chairman Hurd of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s IT Subcommittee, and all of the IT Subcommittee members for joining us in the Ways and Means Committee hearing room today.

“Back in 1936, when Social Security began issuing Social Security numbers they were only used to track earnings and administer the Social Security program. Back then there wasn’t much thought about keeping your number a secret. But today, SSNs are keys to the kingdom for identity thieves. Social Security and identity security experts make a point of telling Americans how important it is to protect their numbers.

“SSNs are valuable targets for identity theft because of their regular use by both the federal government and the private sector as a unique identifier, especially by the financial industry. Time and time again, we’re reminded to protect our Social Security cards in order to avoid identity theft and to be careful with what documents we throw away in the trash.

“Our SSNs are connected to so many personal aspects of our lives – from our Social Security benefits and finances, to our medical histories and education. When I was in law school, grades used to be posted by SSN in alphabetical order. This was seen as better than posting grades by last name, but for Zeigler, who always got A’s, it was pretty easy to figure out his SSN. While colleges and universities have since changed their ways, the federal government has yet to fully catch up.

“Just over 10 years ago, under President Bush’s leadership, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum for the safeguarding of personally identifiable information, including the SSN. The memo called for federal departments and agencies to reduce or replace the use of SSNs across the federal government. Unfortunately, while some progress has been made in reducing the use of SSNs, ten years later, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“This hearing is about making sure that SSNs are only used when necessary and that the federal government is doing what it can and what it should to make sure that when SSNs are used and collected, they are kept safe. The OPM hack in 2015 is an example of what happens when the federal government collects SSNs but doesn’t keep them safe. And that negligence comes with a cost to both the effected individuals and the taxpayers.

“The American people rightly deserve and expect that the federal government protects their SSNs and only uses them when necessary. I thank all of our witnesses for being here. I look forward to hearing from you all about how your agencies are working to tackle this challenge and what more needs to be done.”