Identity Theft – The Government Sometimes Doesn’t Get It

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The USPIRG blog has a disturbing post about how the government has continued to post thousands of social security numbers for anyone in the public to use, including Identity Thieves.

Now, in today’s New York Times, Ron Nixon reports in U.S. Database Exposed Social Security Numbers that two different agencies, the Agricultural Department and its aider and abettor, the Census Bureau, have been posting SSNS on the Internet. An “unaware:”

Agriculture Department for years publicly listed Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of people who received financial aid from two of its agencies, raising concerns about identity theft and other privacy violations. […]The problem was reported to the government last week by a farmer in Illinois who stumbled across the data on the Internet.

That’s dumber than dirt, a gold mine for identity thieves, and as our privacy colleague Marc Rotenberg of EPIC points out in the story, “might have violated the Federal Privacy Act, which restricts the release of such personal information.” In the Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima has some more details in her story: U.S. Exposed Personal Data:

Teuber said the USDA had been using Social Security numbers as part of a 15-digit federal contract identifier number. The practice dates back more than 25 years, she said, to when Social Security numbers were printed on checks. She said the USDA’s information-security division was not aware of this continuing practice until last week.
The loans database was part of a larger public Web site run by the Census Bureau, which collects all federal loan and grant data. The site has been up since 1996.

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