What the government MUST tell you when it asks for your Social Security Number

That includes ALL federal, state and local governments

These requirements are defined by the The Privacy Act OF 1974 5 U.S.C. 552a

  When any government ageny in the United States asks you for your social security number they MUST tell you this information. That includes ALL American government agencies including the states, counties, citys and all other government agencies.

Be aware that most state, county, and city government flush this law down the toilet and don't bother to obey it. There is no punishment for disobeying the law.

This is a summary of what the act does:

The Act requires state and local government agencies that when they request your SSN to inform the you of three things:

  1. Whether the disclosure of your social security number is mandatory or voluntary,
  2. By what statutory law or other authority requires you to give them your social security number, and
  3. What uses will be made of your social security number.

In addition, that section makes it illegal for Federal, state, and local government agencies to deny any rights, privileges or benefits to individuals who refuse to provide their SSNs unless the disclosure is required by Federal statute. (The other exception is if the disclosure is for use in a record system which required the SSN before 1975. (5 USC 552a note). So anytime you're dealing with a government institution and you're asked for your Social Security Number, look for a Privacy Act Statement. If there isn't one, complain and don't give your number. If the statement is present, read it. Once you've read the explanation of whether the number is optional or required, and what will be done with your number if you provide it, you'll be able to decide for yourself whether to fill in the number.

Am I required to give my Social Security number to government agencies?

It depends upon the agency. Some government agencies, including tax authorities, welfare offices and state Departments of Motor Vehicles, can require your Social Security number as mandated by federal law (42 USC 405 (c)(2)(C)(v) and (i)). Others may request the SSN in such a manner that you are led to believe you must provide it.

The Privacy Act of 1974 requires all government agencies -- federal, state and local -- that request SSNs to provide a "disclosure" statement on the form. The statement explains if you are required to provide your Social Security number or if it is optional, how the SSN will be used, and under what statutory or other authority the number is requested (5 USC 552a, note). The U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) provides guidance and oversight regarding the Privacy Act of 1974. The text of the Privacy Act can be found at the website www.usdoj.gov/foia/privstat.htm.

The Privacy Act states that you cannot be denied a government benefit or service if you refuse to disclose your SSN unless the disclosure is required by federal law, or the disclosure is to an agency which has been using SSNs previous to January 1975, the date when the Privacy Act went into effect. There are other exceptions as well. Read the U.S. Department of Justice's explanation at this website, www.usdoj.gov/04foia/1974ssnu.htm.

If you are asked to give your Social Security number to a government agency and no disclosure statement is included on the form, complain and cite the Privacy Act. Unfortunately, there appear to be no penalties when a government agency fails to provide a disclosure statement.

THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 5 U.S.C. 552a


5 USC 552a.

(e) Agency requirements

(3) inform each individual whom it asks to supply information, on the form which it uses to collect the information or on a separate form that can be retained by the individual--

(A) the authority (whether granted by statute, or by Executive order of the President) which authorizes the solicitation of the information and whether disclosure of such information is mandatory or voluntary;

(B) the principal purpose or purposes for which the information is intended to be used;

(C) the routine uses which may be made of the information, as published pursuant to paragraph (4)(D) of this subsection; and

(D) the effects on him, if any, of not providing all or any part of the requested information;