Soc. Sec. ID Bill Considered


Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — Tim Remsburg had a simple mission.

A stalker bought the Social Security number of his 20-year-old stepdaughter on the Internet, tracked her down and then killed her on Oct. 15, 1999. Remsburg wanted to make sure what happened to Amy Boyer didn't happen to anyone else.

``On the face of it, it's a simple issue,'' said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who has taken up Remsburg's cause with a proposal included in a bill before Congress this week. ``But like so many issues,'' he said, ``there are complexities.''

Privacy advocates contend Gregg's proposal is riddled with loopholes that would allow companies still to pull Social Security numbers from public records and sell them.

Supporting the proposal are children's advocates and credit bureaus, banks and others using Social Security numbers for background checks and identity verifications.

``I just wanted to see something positive happen from Amy's death,'' Remsburg said in a telephone interview from his home in Nashua, N.H. ``Prohibiting people from accessing Social Security numbers is a start.''

Gregg's proposal, included in the annual spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments, would make it illegal to give out a Social Security number over the Internet or in any other form without a the number-holder's permission.

Opponents say it would allow continued sale of Social Security numbers found in public records and would override more restrictive state laws that deal with the subject.

The Clinton administration has come out against both provisions, saying the overall proposal seeks to protect individual privacy ``but fails to do so effectively.''

Even Remsburg has some problems with the proposal. ``How easily can a person obtain these public documents?'' he asked. ``If it's going to be easy, then this is just one big circle we're going in.''

Boyer's killer found her Social Security number, birth date, address, telephone number and workplace address from Internet companies that sell personal information, authorities said.

Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says the two exceptions mean information brokers can continue to comb public records and sell what they find, including Social Security numbers.

``This bill will not help future Amy Boyers. It would not have helped Amy Boyer,'' Mierzwinski said. ``The combination of taking away stronger, more protective state laws while carving out loopholes for the data dealers guts the intent of Gregg's law.''

Other groups lining up against the proposal as written include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Another powerful opponent is Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Archer wrote last week that the proposal's ``many broad exceptions create loopholes which will make it virtually impossible ... to achieve the stated goal.''

Gregg says a complete ban on the public use of Social Security numbers would affect not only the Internet economy but also banks, credit bureaus, financial services companies, state governments and all other organizations that may use Social Security numbers for background checks or identity verification.

He also said that having one federal law override all state laws dealing with the issue will ensure that banks, universities, insurance companies and others do not face 50 different state standards.

Endorsing Gregg's proposal, in addition to those business interests, are groups such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Association for Children for the Enforcement of Support Inc.

Gregg said he expects negotiators to find middle ground on both issues before the end of the week.

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On the Net:

Information about S.2554 (Amy Boyer's Law), and H.R. 4690, the spending bill to which is attached, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov

Amy Boyer Memorial Site: http://www.amyboyer.org