Social Security Number: Legal Developments Affecting Its Collection, Disclosure, and Confidentiality [Updated February 21, 2008] [open pdf - 176KB]
"While the social security number (SSN) was first introduced as a device for keeping track of contributions to the Social Security system, its use has been expanded by government entities and the private sector to keep track of many other government and private sector records. Use of the social security number as a federal government identifier was based on Executive Order 9393, issued by President Franklin Roosevelt. Beginning in the 1960s, federal agencies started adopting the social security number as a governmental identifier, and its use for keeping track of government records, on both the federal and state levels, greatly increased. Section 7 of the Privacy Act of 1974 limits compulsory divulgence of the social security number by government entities. While the Privacy Act does provide some limits on the use of the social security number by state and federal entities, exceptions provided in that statute and succeeding statutes have resulted in only minimal restrictions on governmental usage of the social security number. Constitutional challenges to social security number collection and dissemination have, for the most part, been unsuccessful. Private sector use of the social security number is widespread and continues to be largely unregulated by the federal government. The chronology in this report provides a list of federal developments affecting use of the social security number, including federal regulation of the number, as well as specific authorizations, restrictions, and fraud provisions concerning its use."
CRS Report for Congress, RL30318