SSR 79-18


PURPOSE: To provide a statement of current Social Security Administration (SSA) policies for the issuance of the Social Security number (SSN).

CITATION (AUTHORITY): The Social Security Act, as amended, sections 205(a) and (c), 208(f), (g) and (h), and 1102; the Privacy Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-579), section 7; the Tax Reform Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-455), sections 1211(a), (b), and (d); Regulations No. 22, sections 422.101-110; Regulation No. 1, sections 401.1-401.3; Executive Order 9397, November 22, 1943.

PERTINENT HISTORY: From the inception of the Social Security program until November 1971, the issuance of the SSN was based on the individual's allegations of identifying information without corroborative evidence. The generally unverified issuance of the SSN was consistent with the need for a simple, rapid issuance procedure, the public concern about the implications of "keeping track" of people, and the initially minimal incentive for fraud since benefits were dependent on years of covered work. For over 30 years, SSA considered its screening and cross-referral techniques more administratively cost-effective and convenient to the public in detecting multiple SSN's than rigorous issuance procedures.

Although the SSN was originally intended for the Social Security program only and public assurances were given of its strict program usage, Executive Order 9397, issued November 22, 1943, required Federal components to "exclusively" use the number for any needed identification system for individuals. However, there was little nonprogram use of the SSN through the 1950's within the Federal Government largely because of the absence of a real incentive for agencies to change their recordkeeping systems.

In 1961, the Internal Revenue Service began to use the SSN for taxpayer identification. Thereafter the developing computer revolution and the utility in computer recordkeeping of a standard number induced wide-spread adoption of the SSN as a personal identifier by the Federal Government, State and local governments, and many nongovernmental organizations.

In its expanded role as an identifier, the SSN provided a useful and enlarged function but also became subject to greater abuse. Responding to implications of the broader use of the SSN, an SSA task force report in 1971 included recommendations for the tightening up of the SSN system, the mass SSN enumeration in schools at the ninth grade, and a "cautious, conservative" position toward general use of the number as an identifier. In November 1971, SSA began to require simple evidence of identity of all first-time SSN applicants aged 55 or over.

The 1972 amendments (Public Law 92-603) established criminal penalties for the furnishing of false information regarding the SSN for obtaining or increasing benefits from federally funded programs. Also, these amendments required that SSA obtain from applicants evidence as necessary to establish their age, identity, and citizenship or alien status. Until the present time, SSA has required additional evidence only from applicants for original numbers where the individual was age 18 or older, foreign born, or a recipient of Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

The Privacy Act of 1974 included qualified restrictions against the withholding of benefits by State or local governmental entities for refusal of SSN disclosure by individuals. Subsequently, the 1976 Tax Reform Act, in part, authorized State and local governments to require disclosures by individuals of the SSN for limited purposes, and made misuse of the SSN for any purpose a violation of the Social Security Act.

Major recommendations of multiple study groups have been essentially consistent regarding SSN issuance and use. The principles of enhanced integrity of the SSN without encouraging its expansion to a general identifier role were suggested by the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Data Systems in July 1973, The Federal Advisory Committee on False Identification in 1976, and the Privacy Protection Study Commission in July 1977.

Current policy initiatives approved by the Secretary broadly provide that SSA will: (1) improve the integrity of the SSN system; (2) devote additional resources to tighten up the SSN system and deter misuse while limiting the burden on SSN applicants to the extent feasible; and (3) avoid unilateral policies that would push the SSN toward a universal identifier status. More specifically, SSA is to establish employee accountability for SSN evidence, improve quality assurance processes, and encourage en masse school enumeration at the first year high school level.

POLICY DIRECTIVE STATEMENT: All applicants (including individuals who are U.S. born and under age 18) for original SSN's must submit documentary evidence to establish their identity, age, and citizenship or lawful alien status. Applicants for duplicate or corrected cards must submit sufficient evidence to establish their identities and, as indicated, to validate the accuracy of their SSN records. All requests for SSN cards -- originals and duplicates -- must be signed by or for the applicant irrespective of whether the number is known, and the application information must be cross-checked with SSA's records. An SSN will not be issued or reissued if the evidence requirements are not met.

All applicants for original SSN's who are age 18 or older must undergo an in-person interview. The interview will further corroborate the applicant's statement and supporting evidence. This interview must be conducted by an employee of the level of responsibility of a service representative or higher.

When an application is signed by one person on behalf of another (e.g., a parent for a child, a legal guardian for an incompetent adult), evidence of the signer's own identity must be presented in addition to all required evidence for the person to whom the SSN will be assigned. The evidence should include verification of the actual existence of the applicant; i.e., the prospective SSN holder, if age 18 or older.

Employee accountability must be established for determining that SSN evidentiary requirements are met. The employee who approves the application (SS-5 or OAAN-7003) should attest by signature the identity of the supporting documents, the fact that a personal interview was conducted, if required, and the designation of his/her position title and the date.

In light of the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Tax Reform Act of 1976, SSA will not routinely refer information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Referral of information to INS will be confined to situations where such action is authorized by the applicant or requested by INS per Section 290(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Consistent with its right to verify any document submitted as evidence with the custodian of the original record, SSA personnel may, however, submit any INS document to INS for verification without the applicant's consent.

SSA will more actively and systematically encourage schools and school systems to participate in voluntary mass SSN enumeration programs for students at the first year high school level (ninth or tenth grade). This approach affords advantages for the issuance process, such as greater efficiency and economy, assurance of identification of the applicant, and generally convenient access to reliable supporting documentation.

Efforts are to continue in the direction of achieving an effective regular in-line quality control program and a sample review quality assurance program. The processes must include all phases of SSN operations as well as evidentiary policies.

DOCUMENTATION: Supporting evidence for the SSN should have the highest feasible probative value. Ordinarily, applicants for original cards will be required to produce multiple documents; i.e., at least two items of evidence, to properly establish identity, age, and citizenship or alien status. However, in some instances a single document may fulfill the evidentiary requirements; e.g., an Alien Registration Receipt card.

Any document which appears false, altered, or otherwise questionable should be verified with the custodian of the actual records. Doubt as to the accuracy of an allegation should be resolved by obtaining additional verifying information. Questionable or suspicious situations which may involve fraud are to be developed at an appropriate level; e.g., by a claims representative.

Establishment of identity should preferably be accomplished with more than one document, with evidence showing the signature of the applicant, or the signer on his/her behalf, for comparison with the SS-5. A birth certificate by itself is not sufficient to establish identity for any individual age 7 or older. For children under age 7 evidence in addition to a birth certificate (e.g., a medical record, vaccination certificate, insurance policy, or a record of day care, nursery or any school) will be requested to verify identity. However, if there is no other evidence of identity for a child under age 7 and no basis for doubting the validity of the application, a birth certificate alone may be accepted.

To establish date of birth, applicants should be requested to submit a public or religious record of birth. If a birth or baptismal certificate is not available within a reasonable period of time and the applicant has immediate need for an SSN, an alternate document(s) may be used if it is at least 1 year old and is otherwise sufficiently convincing.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, citizenship may be assumed if the applicant alleges birth in the United States and at least one of the documents which establishes age or identity shows a U.S. birthplace or citizenship. A foreign born applicant who alleges U.S. citizenship must submit documentation which verifies citizenship. If a foreign born applicant alleges being a naturalized citizen but has no confirming evidence, he/she should be assisted in requesting a record from the appropriate court. If available documentation does not specifically confirm the alleged derivative citizenship based on a U.S. born or naturalized parent, the applicant should be directed to acquire such documentation from INS.

Nonimmigrant (i.e., temporary) alien applicants in the United States must submit the INS documentation as to their classification (e.g., a permission or nonpermission to work); however, aliens with special status (e.g., Canadian workers and visitors, officials of other countries and organizations) should submit relevant documentation to verify their status. An alien applicant outside the United States who requests an SSN for a nonwork purpose or employment for the U.S. Government or an American firm must furnish evidence of the reason for such need by means of confirming third-party correspondence and/or a detailed explanation of the source and basis for the need for an SSN.

FURTHER INFORMATION: SSA will give greater priority to investigating SSN abuse and encouraging the Justice Department to prosecute fraud cases. Efforts will be made to ensure that convictions for SSN abuse are well publicized.

Final regulations covering these policies were published in the Federal Register on February 20, 1979, at 44 FR 10369.

CROSS-REFERENCES: Claims Manual 2800-2894; Enumeration Manual 350-399; Service Representatives Handbook 2700-2772.1; Welfare Enumeration Manual 300-385.

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