Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa





Grassley Seeks to Protect Social Security and Personal Records

Apr 15, 1997

Grassley Seeks to Protect Social Security and Personal Records

Senator Says Information "Not for Sale"

Melissa Kearney


Seeking to help secure the confidentiality of Social Security numbers and other personal information of individuals, Sen. Chuck Grassley today joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein, of California, to introduce bipartisan legislation to protect this information on the Internet.

The Personal Information Privacy Act of 1997 would prohibit the release of this information from credit reports and make it illegal to sell a person's Social Security number for commercial use or for identification purposes without the person's consent.

"This is a case of the law playing catch-up with technology," said Grassley. "Social Security numbers and other personal records are being marketed on the Internet without the knowledge of the persons affected. The increasing popularity of new technology, such as the Internet, may invite unintended consequences involving personal information." The Personal Information Privacy Act of 1997 offers three solutions to address a growing concern among private individuals regarding worldwide dissemination of their personal records via the Internet. What's more, the bill puts in place civil penalties to allow aggrieved individuals to take action in court to recover damages.

Specifically, this bill would:

  • Prohibit credit bureaus from buying and selling certain personal information that is not available in the local phone book;
  • Prohibit the commercial use ? buying and selling ? of Social Security numbers without the written consent of the person; and,
  • Restrict the use of Social Security numbers by state departments of motor vehicles, especially for commercial uses.

"As it stands now, minimal information and a few keystrokes can get virtually anyone your lifetime credit history and net worth via the computer," said Grassley. "We must act to protect personal records from potential misuse."

Last week, Grassley joined Sens. William Roth, of Delaware, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, of New York, to urge the Social Security Administration to suspend its web page, "PEBES Online." Due to serious concerns raised about unauthorized access to personal wages, lifetime earnings and other personal information, Grassley said the site may serve as the "gateway to economic espionage" if left unchecked. As chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, Grassley was pleased the Social Security Administration opted to suspend the site until effective privacy safeguards are identified.

"Striking a balance between convenience and access versus an individual's privacy rights will serve as a constant challenge as technology continues its fast pace forward. It's Congress' responsibility to make sure the legal system adequately safeguards the confidentiality of an individual's personal records."

Grassley serves as a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.