Social Security Numbers Weren’t Meant to Be Used for Every Freaking Thing

A person holds their social security card.
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After more than 143 million identities were compromised in a data breach at Equifax, the credit reporting agency and White House officials are questioning the safety of using Social Security numbers for identification.

The risk of fraud already inspired the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to remove Social Security numbers from ID cards starting in 2018.

The Trump administration also plans to ask other government agencies to find new identification systems that don’t rely on Social Security numbers.

Slate reports that Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator, discussed the safety issue at a cyber conference in Washington, D.C., this week.

“I feel very strongly that the Social Security number has outlived its usefulness,” Joyce said “Every time we use the Social Security number, you put it at risk.”

The same day, former Equifax CEO Richard Smith echoed the belief that the wide use of Social Security numbers as a form of identification is a liability.

“We should consider the creation of a public-private partnership to begin a dialogue on replacing the Social Security Number as the touchstone for identity verification in this country,” he said in written remarks presented to Congress. “It is time to have identity verification procedures that match the technological age in which we live.”

Smith resigned after 12 years as CEO of Equifax following the breach that impacted about 44% of the American population.

Social Security Numbers Weren’t Supposed to Be ID Numbers

When Social Security numbers were created in 1936, they weren’t meant to be used as widely as they are today. In fact, their only purpose was “tracking the earnings histories of U.S. workers, for use in determining Social Security benefit entitlement and computing benefit levels,” according to the Social Security Administration.

Although there is consensus now that it is necessary to replace Social Security numbers as our primary means of identification, there is no concrete plan yet for what a new system would look like.

At the cyber security conference, Joyce touched on the idea of a “modern cryptographic identifier.”

Bloomberg explained that this system would require you to have a physical device that would hold a secret code that serves as an identification method. To access the code and confirm your identity, you would have to enter a unique PIN.

SImply put, it could work like a credit card chip and PIN.

This is only one idea, and it would also come with a unique set of challenges, including how to create and distribute the identifiers. According to Bloomberg, it would likely take an act of Congress and a series of new laws to make a change like this.

Hopefully, the renewed focus on safety measures will make it more difficult for scammers and hackers to access personal information, while making us less susceptible to identity theft.

Desiree Stennett is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.