The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Memoirs of an Ex-Social Security Number Giver (keeping social security numbers private)

graphic of page

Memoirs of an
Ex-Social Security Number

by Dr. Patricia Campbell

Once when I was young and naive, I was full of pride at
having a real number of my own, one that was verified by a
piece of paper issued by the United States Government. I
had my own unique social security number. It didn't bother
me that some of my greedy friends had several social
security numbers. It didn't even bother me when two of my
multi-card friends found they shared the same number.

After all the government was in charge of social security
numbers, and they wouldn't louse up anything as important
as this.

So my social security number and I continued our
relationship. Its red and white card said, "Not For
Identification Purposes,” but what did that mean?

172-38-7613 and I were one.

As the card and I grew older and we both lost some of
our shine, I memorized my number and put the card in a
safe place where it could be retrieved in case of emergency
or memory lapse. But there really wasn't much chance that
I would forget those nine digits, because everyone kept
asking me what they were. At first I proudly reeled off the
number and waited for people to respond, 'Oh, you
memorized it." But soon I began to wonder if the Social
Security Administration really needed to know about


"I want to apply for an unlisted zip code.”

things like my telephone calls and my electric light bill in
order to figure out how much money I was entitled to upon

So when the gas company asked for my social security
number, I asked them if they were going to contribute to
my social security checks. They said no, I said why do you
need the number, and the clerk looked around for help. No
one could tell me why they wanted that number, or what
they were going to do with it, other than "put it in a

A computer, me, and my unique (or almost unique)
number; all of a sudden it started to make sense - the gas
company, the telephone company, voter registration, the
office of motor vehicles, the credit offices, and even the
rent-a-car people would all have information about me
under the same number. And without my permission or
even knowledge, all this information, correct or not (I
started remembering my two friends with the same
number) could be put together. With visions of George
Orwell and 1984 on one side and the Bill of Rights on the
other, a private revolution was born.

The credo of this revolution would be simple and
hopefully easy to live with. "NO LONGER WOULD

My credo was first tested when it came time to change
my driver's license. As the burly state trooper asked for my
social security number my resolve weakened and I asked,
"What would you do if I wouldn't give you my social
security number?” "Give you another number,” was his
response, and another number I got.

It hasn't always been that easy; in fact, a predisposition
toward threatening people with your lawyer is very helpful
in this revolution. Through the use of patience, threats and
repetition ("You can't deny me my right to vote because I
won't give you my social security number" repeated 50
times at unequal intervals works wonders), I have had
numerous successes and only one failure (Federal law
demands your social security number for checking

So onward I go, forever confident that when the CIA
and FBI ever get around to my file, it will be a little harder
for them to fill it.

(By the way, the social security number I used in the
story isn't mine; I don't give my social security number,

Dr. Campbell is an Assistant Professor in Educational
Foundations at Georgia State University, teaching graduate
educational research and methods of evaluation. She is active in
research and lecturing on sex-role stereotyping, as well as in rape
prevention. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the
American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

Her fight against the use of social security numbers for any and
everything has been a long-standing battle against invasion of
personal privacy and the constant collection of unnecessary
information by many private and public agencies.

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