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Friday, February 18, 2005

Waiting and Privacy

I'm killing time before heading for my already-delayed flight at O'Hare.
I went to the doctor yesterday, and they insisted that I supply them with my SSN. I had to really fight not to give it to them.
Here's what the Privacy Rights Clearninghouse has to say about your rights to protect your SSN:

Do I have to provide my Social Security number to private businesses?

Usually you are not legally compelled to provide your Social Security number to private businesses -- including private health care providers and insurers -- unless you are involved in a transaction in which the Internal Revenue Service requires notification. (MediCal and Medicare are government health plans and can require a Social Security number.)

There is no law, however, that prevents businesses from requesting your SSN, and there are few restrictions on what businesses can do with it. But even though you are not required to disclose your SSN, the business does not have to provide you with service if you refuse to release it.

If a business insists on knowing your Social Security number when you cannot see a reason for it, speak to an administrator who may be authorized to make an exception or who may know that company policy does not require it. If the company will not allow you to use an alternate number, you may want to take your business elsewhere.

In California, a new law restricts how certain businesses can display their customers' Social Security numbers. It does not restrict the collection of SSNs, however, and it does not affect government agencies. California Civil Code 1798.85 is being phased in from 2003 to 2005. Insurance companies will not be able to print the SSN on identification cards to be carried in the wallet. Customers of banks and investment companies cannot be required to transmit the SSN over the Internet when conducting business online, unless the number is encrypted. SSNs cannot be printed on documents sent through the mail, with some exceptions. The California Office of Privacy Protection provides a guide for businesses on "recommended practices" for using SSNs. It includes a description of the new law, www.privacy.ca.gov/recommendations/ssnrecommendations.pdf. The full text of the law is found on the state's official legislative web site, www.leginfo.ca.gov.


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