May 22, 2000
Privacy Takes Center Stage
A few weeks back I wrote about my efforts to advance privacy legislation. This issue has taken front and center stage over the past couple of weeks, so I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on the activities undertaken these past weeks.
Last week the Ways and Means Committee held hearings regarding use of the Social Security number. The fact that the Social Security number has become a unique identifier has strongly contributed to the efforts of those who invade the privacy rights of citizens. From government snoops at the IRS to identity-thieves, those who would invade privacy have found the Social Security number to be a key weapon to allow them to commit their criminal actions.
This week the Government Reform and Oversight Committee met to consider potential solutions to privacy problems. Featured in this legislative hearing was my bill, HR 220. As I had done the week before, I was called to testify before the government reform committee. In so doing, I again stressed the importance of ending the use of the Social Security number as a unique identifier.
When Social Security was put into place a couple of very clear promises were made to the American people. One of the promises made was that the funds going into the Social Security trust fund would not be used to run the laundry list of government programs and the alphabet soup listing of government agencies. What we were told is that those dollars would be used only to run a public pension system.
The other thing we were told was that the Social Security number would not become a form of national identifier, and that the use of the number would be limited to purposes essential to the management of the public pension program. The government misled us on both counts.
Ever since Vietnam, the government has been sucking dollars out of the Social Security trust fund to pay for government programs, including foreign adventurism. Whenever we vote to spend more money in Bosnia or Kosovo or Colombia, we are tapping funds that could be used to repay the Social Security trust fund for years of unrelated expenses. This spending must stop.
And, for years we have seen the Social Security number more and more closely resemble a national ID number. It was just a few years ago when the IRS started demanding the number be used for all dependants on our annual tax filings. In this information age we have seen an explosion in the uses of the Social Security number and a closer link between the number and individuals owing to the fact that the information society depends upon relational data bases for all sorts of things.
Right now Congress is considering two very different solutions to the privacy problems that have arisen as the result of these extraneous uses of the Social Security number. My solution remains to strictly limit the government. This Congress I introduced two bills the very first day we met. HR 219 stops the government from using Social Security monies for other government programs and HR 220 stops the use of the Social Security number as a unique identifier.
It will probably not surprise anybody to learn that there are a number of people in Congress who are actually suggesting that the best way to protect privacy is to make the government bigger and stronger. These people argue that the government should further regulate the information economy in an attempt to advance privacy. Any person familiar with the concept of negative and positive rights, and any student of history, will immediately realize the follies of trying to secure privacy rights by increasing government authority.
Right now we can celebrate that this very important issue is being discussed, but we need to be cautious because it is very possible that in the name of privacy, bad legislation will pass.