|Received:||9/3/2007 7:34:36 PM|
|Agency:||Federal Trade Commission|
|Rule:||Private Sector Use of SSNs|
Comments:In our criminal justice system, we have federal law enforcement, prosecutors, and state, county and local police patrolling our streets to safeguard persons and property. They have at their disposal the very best databases to aid them in identifying, tracing, and arresting criminals who prey on society. Accuracy in identification is, of course, paramount. Thousands of individuals share the same common names and dates of birth so law enforcement can't just rely on names and dates of birth when making arrests. It is the same in our civil courts. While private investigators don't make arrests, they play a critical role in the civil justice system where the need for accurate identification is just as compelling to aid in: locating witnesses for court cases, locating missing persons, and conducting background investigations of job applicants who frequently furnish aliases, false job, address, and educational histories, and use other peoples' Social Security numbers. Often the applicants turn out to be thieves, sex offenders, or violent criminals. Accuracy in identification, again, is paramount. One of the critical tools that has been available to private nvestigators has been the Social Security Number which, for practical purposes, has become a defacto national identifier. There is widespread fraudulent misuse of Social Security numbers by criminals, illegal aliens and others. It is important for investigators to be able to correctly match Social Security numbers to the names and address histories of the persons who own them. Proposed federal laws, introduced with the intent of reducing identity theft, would deprive private investigators of virtually all access to Social Security number information. If enacted, they would strike a crippling blow to the efficient functioning of the civil justice system. Identity theft is a recognized, growing problem and Congress should enact laws to thwart it. Also, the ongoing promiscuous advertising and sale of individuals' Social Security numbers on the Internet is a perversion that no responsible private investigator endorses. It, too, must be stopped. However, private investigators are neither the perpetrators nor the enablers of identity theft, as some misinformed or disingenuous individuals or groups might have us believe. Private investigators are highly regulated by law enforcement and subject to police and FBI background checks. Many come into the profession after having served with honor and distinction as highly-trained law enforcement, intelligence, and military investigators. Most private investigators are law-abiding, moral, and ethical. Persons who attempt to portray them in a bad light are either misinformed or are deliberately misleading the public for their own selfish purposes. Not all private investigators are perfect, of course. There are bad PI's just as there are bad police, bad members of Congress, bad judges, and bad clergy. The bad ones in any profession are subject to consequences for breaking laws. For the most part, the proprietary database providers who aggregate Social Security numbers, names, addresses, telephone numbers, criminal histories and other public record information, have put into place strict screening procedures. These insure that only licensed private investigators, attorneys, and other qualified businesses can access their data and, then, only for legally permissible purposes. These database providers forbid access to the public, as they should. It is time to curtail access to Social Security numbers to any miscellaneous, unaccountable, possibly malevolent Tom, Dick or Harry. However, taking this valuable tool away from private investigators would have enormous, unintended negative consequences for our civil justice system and our nation. As an investigator, I urge the FTC to do its utmost to keep this from happening.