CDT's data privacy page

Letter to the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner
From the Congressional Internet Caucus Co-Chairs


APRIL 15, 1997

Mr. John J. Callahan
Acting Commissioner
U.S. Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235

Dear Mr. Callahan:

We write to you to strongly commend the Social Security Administration's (SSA) leadership in providing a valuable, prompt, and cost-effective service to the public through the World Wide Web. Specifically, we applaud the agency's efforts to provide easier access to the Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement (PEBES).

You have been one of the first to recognize what more and more people are starting to learn -- that the Internet is a valuable new tool to create a more user-friendly government. All of our constituents can benefit from new and innovative ways of disseminating government records. Your innovation will help individuals avoid the bureaucratic maze by allowing individuals to avoid long waits at, and costly calls to, the SSA, and will free up valuable staff resources at the SSA. However, recent news reports have made valid points about the necessity of implementing processes to authenticate the identity of the individual requesting access to the SSA database. It goes without saying that an individual's record with the SSA is a matter of the utmost privacy and we must do all we can to protect individual privacy while allowing individuals to have easier access to their government.

We recognize that you have chosen to temporarily "unplug" your PEBES web feature in order to re-evaluate the privacy issue. As you begin your research, we strongly encourage you to investigate technologies such as public-key digital signatures and passwords in order to verify identity. We are saddened that the recent controversy has taken this valuable service from the public, and we hope that procedures can be quickly implemented to ensure prompt and secure public access to PEBES.


    	{signed}					{signed}
     	__________________				__________________
	Rick White					Rick Boucher
	Member of Congress				Member of Congress

	{signed}					{signed}
	__________________				__________________
	Conrad Burns					Patrick Leahy
	United States Senator				United States Senator