Today's increasing dependence on Social Security numbers as general identification is probably the best-known illustration of the "Government 30 Year Promise" in action. (Promise them anything, then take it away when the people to whom you made the promise are either senile or dead. Usually about 30 years. -RT) When the federal government was in the process of getting this massive, compulsory pyramid scheme called Social Security going at about the time I was being born, they ran into opposition from people who were concerned that this number would someday be used as a Universal Identification Number and Big Brother would be here. So they made a "Government 30 Year Promise" that this number would never, never be used for identification purposes and would, in fact, never be used for anything but Social Security. They even printed, right on the Social Security card: "NOT TO BE USED FOR IDENTIFICATION."(See illustration of the old-style card above.)
But (surprise, surprise!) they failed to make a law to ensure that the promise would be kept. If you look at today's version of the SS card, you'll notice that this phrase no longer appears. Sometime in the late sixties, it was quietly removed, and no one noticed, since the people getting new cards never knew about The Promise. That was about 35 years since the promise was made, which was just a little behind schedule. My father and grandfather are both dead. I was too young to know about it until I woke up and began taking an interest in the government rip-offs I was seeing all around me and started researching.
WE'RE ALMOST THERE
Today, you can hardly buy anything without someone demanding to see your SSN. Some time ago, I bought a pager and had to go to three places to accomplish the purchase because each of the first two demanded it "...for the air time" account. (They figure this to be credit, you see, and the SSN is universally used as an identifier on your credit report.) When I refused to give it, they refused to sell me the pager. So I went elsewhere until I found someone who would sell it to me without the SSN.
THEY LOST $2,000OR MORE
I have since bought a television set and a VCR from that store that sold me the pager. Those earlier two stores lost about $2,000.00 worth of my business -- so far -- because they demanded my SSN. Too bad for them.) I did finally get a cellular phone. It seems there is a market for cellular phones for people who either have no credit or do not want to give their Social Security number in order to obtain credit for the airtime. Guess which one I am. [Update: The figure is now nearer to $8,000, since I bought a lot of computer equipment from the same people. Plus which, I am now on U. S. West's system with my new digital phone. They didn't ask for a SSN. I still have the same pager and have been paying for the airtime like clockwork for the last four years.]
It is accomplished simply by paying a monthly fee, plus purchasing air time in advance in 30 minute increments. Works fine for me, and except for the airtime cost, the bill is about the same as I pay for my home phone. These people are making a lot of money on this market. Money other businesses are losing because of their pig-headed insistence on demanding something that's none of their business.
FEDERAL LAW? I DON'T THINK SO
An article by Tom Martino in the "Rocky Mountain News" during the summer of 1994 stated unequivocally that it was "...a violation of federal law to give an incorrect SSN to a credit reporting company." I think that's incorrect, because if there were such a law, I'd have heard about it. I think there may be a law making it illegal to knowingly give "erroneous information" to a credit bureau, but not one that specifically mentions Social Security Numbers. I don't know. Tom Martino never returned my several phone calls, and I've never been able to get a straight answer of any kind, about anything, out of the Social Security Administration. I'm still checking. If I ever find out, I'll let you know. [Update: Still no answers.]
THE PRIVACY ACT CON
The Privacy Act of 1974 put a stop to the indiscriminate use of the SSN by federal agencies that didn't already have a data base in place using it. But they neglected to make it a federal crime (an oversight, or on purpose ...hmm?) for private business or local and state governments to use it.
THE SHARING INFORMATION CON
Today, the federal government is actually encouraging private industry and state and local government agencies (who were not prohibited from using the SSN as an identifier by the Privacy Act of 1974) to build data bases on as many fronts as possible so they can get their hands on the data and integrate it into their existing massive data bases (You can bet Uncle Sam will find a way around any law they don't like.).
THE NOOSE IS GETTING TIGHTER
I can see the noose tightening. Today, when a policeman stops you, the first thing he asks for after your driver's license is your SSN. If you refuse to give it to him, he threatens to arrest you and take you downtown until you can be identified. (This actually happened to my son on a traffic stop, for heaven's sake! In spite of the fact he had already properly identified himself with his driver's license. -RT) There is no law requiring you to give it to a policeman yet in most places, (so he'll just rely on intimidation, for now) but you can bet your bippie it won't be very long. And that's when people like me will start going to jail, because I won't give it.
COLLECTING THE SSN FOR SALE
Some mail order scams now making the rounds aren't really interested in how much money you send them. What they really want is your SSN and your birth date. They tell you they want to use it as a "control number." One such scam is a pyramid scheme called: "The Birthday Club." Guess what they ask for besides money?
THEY CAN BECOME YOU
The fact remains that all they need are these two items and they can be you when it comes to obtaining other forms of identification, credit cards in your name sent to their address for their use, etc. If they can get your bank account number too, (and all the scams involving automatic withdrawal require you to send it) all they then need to do is call up your bank and have them transfer your funds into an account they control. (Don't laugh. It has been done, and is still being done.)
WE NEED AN ACTIVIST
Somebody needs to start an organization that advises people of these facts and assists them in effectively refusing to do business with any company that demands their SSN. People would stop the practice quick if they started losing a significant amount of business because of it.
And, somebody should file a class action suit against large companies, particularly utilities who are the only game in town to prevent them from routinely refusing you service without this number. I can't afford to file one. And I'm a better writer than an organizer. Such companies are the electric company, the phone company, and other companies who are the only suppliers (a monopoly) of a necessary service in a given area. When monopolies start demanding your SSN (and they have), your only recourse is a class action suit and the hope for a non-liberal judge. There are more of those around now, but they are still too much in the minority.
So DO something! I am.
UPDATE: Since this was written there have been several attempts to create systems requiring the issuance of a national identification card based on the SSN and requiring it to be used for everything from operating a public restroom booth to paying (other than income) taxes. They'll keep trying, so keep your eyes open and become an obstacle every time you get a chance.
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