Today anywhere we go we are asked to provide our Social Security Number (SSN), whether it be to open a bank account, to have a cell phone plan, to work, to go to school, to get a driver’s licence, etc. It seems that in many cases the number itself is more important than who we actually are. This is why identity fraud is rampant – we no longer need to provide who we really are, we only need to have a 9-digit number and bingo, we are someone else.
How is it that we come to get this number anyways though? Despite some conspiracy theories and maybe some sci-fi movies, I am pretty sure that I didn’t pop out of the womb and the doctor read the SSN off my neck.
Through my research it seems that we are generally given the number at birth by our parents when we are born. Reading from the Social Security Administration (SSA) webpage we read:
Must my child have a Social Security number?: No. Getting a Social Security number for your newborn is voluntary. But, it is a good idea to get a number when your child is born. You can apply for a Social Security number for your baby when you apply for your baby’s birth certificate. The state agency that issues birth certificates will share your child’s information with us and we will mail the Social Security card to you. (link)
It seems pretty clear to me that one can be born in the United States of America – even a natural citizen – and not have to have a SSN. So why do we all have one and what is it used for? And who is telling us that we must have one?
The Social Security Act of 1935 (Pub. Law 74-271, August 14,1935, 49 Stat. 620; as amended; and is codified at 42 U.S.C. §§301.1399) is when it all started. I find it odd that the SSN is not that old. There are still plenty of people around today that never had SSNs until they applied for one. Weird, right? That’s right, people functioned prior to 1935 without SSNs.
The only place that I can find where the law mandates that one has a SSN is in 1943 with Executive Order 9397 by Franklin D Roosevelt. Executive Order 9397 reads:
WHEREAS certain Federal agencies from time to time require in the administration of their activities a system of numerical identification of accounts of individual persons; and
WHEREAS some seventy million persons have heretofore been assigned account numbers pursuant to the Social Security Act; and
WHEREAS a large percentage of Federal employees have already been assigned account numbers pursuant to the Social Security Act; and
WHEREAS it is desirable in the interest of economy and orderly administration that the Federal Government move towards the use of a single, unduplicated numerical identification system of accounts and avoid the unnecessary establishment of additional systems:
NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, it is hereby
ordered as follows:
1. Hereafter any Federal department, establishment, or agency shall, whenever the head thereof finds it advisable to establish a new system of permanent account numbers pertaining to individual persons, utilize exclusively the Social Security Act account numbers assigned pursuant to Title 26, section 402.502 of the 1940 Supplement to the Code of Federal Regulations* and pursuant to paragraph 2 of this order.
2. The Social Security Board shall provide for the assignment of an account number to each person who is required by any Federal agency to have such a number but who has not previously been assigned such number by the Board. The Board may accomplish this purpose by (a) assigning such numbers to individual persons, (b) assigning blocks of numbers to Federal agencies for reassignment to individual persons, or (c) making such other arrangements for the assignment of numbers as it may deem appropriate.
3. The Social Security Board shall furnish, upon request of any Federal agency utilizing the numerical identification system of accounts provided for in this order, the account number pertaining to any person with whom such agency has an account or the name and other identifying data pertaining to any account number of any such person.
4. The Social Security Board and each Federal agency shall maintain the confidential character of information relating to individual persons obtained pursuant to the provisions of this order.
5. There shall be transferred to the Social Security Board, from time to time, such amounts as the Director of the Bureau of the Budget shall determine to be required for reimbursement by any Federal agency for the services rendered by the Board pursuant to the provisions of this order.
6. This order shall be published in the FEDERAL REGISTER. (link)
The important thing here to notice is the “WHEREAS” parts. The first one mentions Federal agency administration while the second, third, and fourth ones clarify that those individuals are Federal Employees and or the Federal Government. Nowhere does it mention that a private-corporation needs to have it’s workers provide SSNs nor does it mandate that Average Joe Citizen have a SSN (unless he is working at a Federal agency).
The SSA admitted this in a letter dated 18 March 1998 from Associate Commisioner Charles Mullen. In this letter the SSA states,
The Social Security Act does not require a person to have a Social Security number to live and work in the United States, nor does it require an SSN simply for the purpose of having one. However, if someone works without an SSN, we cannot properly credit the earning for the work performed. (link)
This clearly states that the Act does not require a person to have a SSN simply for the sake of having one unless they want to earn credits so they can be a part of the Social Security Insurance Program.
But why are our parents signing us up for an insurance program at birth? Well, as with many things it leads back to taxes. In 1986 the Tax Reform Act mandated that if you were claiming children as dependents on your tax return (to lower your taxes) they had to have SSNs (link). Of course to m this still raises the question of what exactly a SSN was used for originally. Originally it was used to give Federal employees a number and then later for anyone who wanted to participate in a Federal insurance program.
I think it is interesting when we dig into 5 USC § 552a, Records maintained on individuals. Section 552a(a)(13) reads,
the term “Federal personnel” means officers and employees of the Government of the United States, members of the uniformed services (including members of the Reserve Components), individuals entitled to receive immediate or deferred retirement benefits under any retirement program of the Government of the United States (including survivor benefits). (link)
I mention this because a “Federal person(nel)” is anyone who is (a) an officer of the Government of the United States, (b) an employee of the Government of the United States, (c) member of the uniformed services, or an individual entitled to receive immediate or deferred retirement benefits under any retirement program of the Government of the United States. Oddly enough this seems to encompass all Americans – I am not working for the government nor am I a soldier; however, under force I am expecting* to receive retirement benefits because my workplace is taking money out of my paycheck for SS.
* expecting: I do not desire to be in the retirement program and for that matter, I do not expect to get anything due to SS being bankrupt.
All this raises so many questions in my mind of what this entire SS program is all about. It seems by having a SSN I am automatically enrolled in this SS retirement/insurance plan and by proxy I am being classified as “Federal personnel.” What is more interesting is that government (employees) are bound by what the Code (U.S.C) is, which is versus a non-government citizen is not bound by Code but rather Regulations (C.F.R.).
Guess what the Tax Code is largely written in?
You guessed it, only Code. There are no implementing regulations for much of the tax laws.
But what if I don’t want to be a part of the SS retirement plan? While I was under 18 my parents gave me a SSN so they could claim me as a dependent on their taxes. However, now that I am over 18, can I release myself from the program? I would think that I could and should be.
Would my payor can me or would I be protected under 18 USC § 242,
Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
or 42 USC § 1983,
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.
I don’t know…
The system seems to be a vicious circle, but what I am sure of is this – I do not want to be a part of the SS retirement program. I am good with money and even if I was bad I am pretty sure that I would be better at it than my government.