What Should You Do When Someone Wants Your Social Security Number?
Memoirs of an Ex-Social Security Number Giver
by Dr. Patricia Campbell

Once when I was young and naive, I was full of pride at having a real number of my own, one that was verified by a piece of paper issued by the United States Government. I had my own unique social security number. It didn't bother me that some of my greedy friends had several social security numbers. It didn't even bother me when two of my multi-card friends found they shared the same number. After all the government was in charge of social security numbers, and they wouldn't louse up anything as important, as this.

So my social security number and I continued I our relationship. Its red and white card said, "Not For Identification Purposes," but what did that mean? 172-38-7613 and I were one.

As the card and I grew older and we both lost some of our shine, I memorized my number and put the card in a safe place where it could be retrieved in case of emergency or memory lapse. But there really wasn't much chance that I would forget those nine digits, because everyone kept asking me what they were. At first I proudly reeled off the number and waited for people to respond, "Oh, you memorized it." But soon I began to wonder if the Social Security Administration really needed to know about things like my telephone calls and my electric light bill in order to figure out how much money I was entitled to upon retirement.

So when the gas company asked for my social security number, I asked them if They were going to contribute to my social security check They said no, I said, why do you need the number, and the clerk looked around for help. No one could tell me why they wanted that number, or what they were going to do, with it, other than "Put it in a computer."

A computer, me, and my unique (or almost unique) number; all of a sudden it started to make sense - the gas company, the telephone company, voter registration, the office of motor vehicle, the credit offices, and even the rent-a-car people would all have information about me under the same number. And without my permission or even knowledge, all this information, correct or not (I started remembering my two friends with the same number) could be put together. With visions of George Orwell and 1984 on one side and the Bill of Rights on the other, a private revolution was born.

The credo of this revolution would be simple and hopefully easy to live with. "NO LONGER WOULD ANYONE WHO DIDN'T HAVE A LEGAL RIGHT TO MY SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER GET IT."

My credo was first tested when it came time to change my driver's license. As the burly state trooper asked for my social security number my resolve weakened and I asked, "What would you do if I wouldn't give you my social security number?" "Give you another number," was his response, and another number I got.

It hasn't always been that easy; in fact, a predisposition toward threatening people with your lawyer is very helpful in this revolution. Through the use of patience, threats and repetition ("You can't deny me my right to vote because I won't give you my social security number" repeated 50 times at unequal intervals works wonders), I have had numerous successes and only one failure (Federal law demands your social security number for checking accounts).

So onward I go, forever confident that when the CIA and FBI ever get around to my file, it will be a little harder for them to fill it.

(By the way, the social security number I used in the story isn't mine; I don't give my social security number, remember.)

Dr. Campbell is an Assistant Professor in Educational Foundations at Georgia State University, teaching graduate educational research and methods of evaluation. She is active in research and lecturing on sex-role stereotyping, as well as in rape prevention. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
Her fight against the use of social security numbers for any and everything has been a long standing battle against invasion of personal privacy and the constant collection of unnecessary information by many private and public agencies.

From CREATIVE COMPUTING, Volume1, Number 8, November-December 1975. Published by Ideametrics, 20 Lynnfield Drive, Morristown, NJ 07960.
This article was scanned from the original publication using a Hewlett-Packard ScanJet Plus optical scanner, HP AccuScan Software and printed on a HP LaserJet III printer. Microsoft Word 5 was used for final editing. SSNUMS.DOC. This file was lost and only a printed copy survived. It was scanned August 11, 2001, using the HP ScanJet 6300 and OmniPage Pro 11 for OCR.

Dr. Campbell, gave permission for use Tue, 20 Nov 2001 17:12:47.