By Erin Walkey
| | January 30, 2013
Social Security numbers have been around for nearly 80 years and most people who live in the United States have one.
However, many may not realize just how important that nine-digit number is to their identities.
In 1936, the Social Security number was created for the sole purpose of tracking the earnings histories of U.S. workers, for use in determining Social Security benefit entitlements and computing benefit levels, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s website, www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v69n2/ v69n2p55.html.
There are many ways to protect personal information, such as Social Security numbers, which should not be disclosed to others, Capt. Michael Duffy, privacy act officer/forms management officer, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, said.
“Social Security numbers are one of the primary pieces of information used in identity theft and fraud,” Duffy said. “Widespread use of the Social Security number has put the military and civilian Department of Defense employees at risk to these crimes.
“The best way to protect yourself is to verify the person or organization requesting your personally identifying information has a real need to know,” he said. “Check any forms that request personally identifiable information have a privacy act notice that includes these four items: authority, purpose, routine uses and disclosure.”
If a person violates the regulations involving the disclosures of Social Security numbers, there are severe punishments, Duffy said.
“For civilian employees, unauthorized disclosure or use of the Social Security numbers protected by the Privacy Act can result in a reprimand to removal on the first offense,” he said. “For military members, misuse can result in non-judicial punishment or trial by court-martial, with penalties as severe as a dishonorable discharge.”
To reduce or eliminate the unnecessary use of Social Security numbers whenever possible, a DoD policy was put into place in 2008, Duffy said.
The Marine Corps and Department of Navy worked together to create a three-phase plan to further strengthen the protection against the risk of disclosing PII of all Marines, families and Civilian-Marines, he said.
Duffy explained the three phases of the Social Security Number Reduction Plan.
Phases one and two required forms management officials and program managers to ensure the collection of Social Security numbers for all command forms and registered information technology systems, he added.
According to Marine Administrative Message 733/12, phase three explains the acceptable uses for all forms of PII such as Social Security numbers, Duffy said.
Under phase three, in place of Social Security numbers, commands may now use the Electronic Data Interchange Personnel Identifier or DoD ID.
All letters, memoranda, spreadsheets, hard copy lists and electronic lists must meet the acceptable criteria if Social Security numbers are collected.
Disclosure of the last four numbers of a Social Security number to someone without an official reason will be treated as a breach of PII, according to Duffy.
He noted that if someone becomes aware of PII misuse, it should be reported to a command’s Privacy Act officer.
MCLB Albany’s Privacy Act officer is Duffy, and he can be reached at 229-639-5105.