Friday, June 24, 2005

Social Security and FBI Sharing Info

Zippp! Zooommmm! Zappping through Cyberspace and suddenly I came to a screeching halt. - (Many of you may think the word screeching very apropos) - What is this??? Party of the Purple (Combination of red and blue. Get it? Got it? Good!) Mark Owen had made a list of news articles and cartoons that backed up his world view. In the midst of the list was this link to a N.Y. Times Article: "The Social Security Administration has relaxed its privacy restrictions and searched thousands of its files at the request of the FBI as part of terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, newly disclosed records and interviews show." - end quote -

Well, the link actually led to a page that the Times Syndicate set up as a buffer. A log-in page. To save the privacy concerns of our more cynical readers we at prying1 did a Google Search and found that has the standing story and requires no sign in. Prison planet may or may not record your visit through your I.P. number. So it goes.

Which brings me back to the story. - Here are some quotes -
The privacy policy typically bans the sharing of such confidential information, which includes home addresses, medical information and other personal data. But senior officials at the Social Security agency agreed to an "ad hoc" policy that authorized the release of information to the bureau for investigations related to Sept. 11 because officials saw a "life-threatening" emergency, internal memorandums say.
Social Security and law enforcement officials said that they were sensitive to privacy concerns and had put safeguards in place, but that they believed that the information gave investigators a valuable tool.

"We ran thousands of Social Security numbers," said a former senior FBI official who insisted on anonymity because the files involved internal cases.

"We got very useful information, that's for sure," the former official said. "We recognized the value of having that information to track leads, and, to their credit, so did the Social Security Administration."
Some privacy advocates and members of Congress, although sympathetic to the extraordinary demands posed by the Sept. 11 investigation, said they were troubled by what they saw as a significant shift in privacy policies.
James Huse, who was the inspector general at the Social Security agency until March 2004, said his agency provided relevant identifying information to the bureau on possible terror suspects but relied on the tax agency to determine what information it would turn over on a suspect's income and employment.

The FBI requests "came in by the thousands," Mr. Huse said in an interview. "They would give us the names of people suspected of being terrorists for whatever reason, and we'd match them against Social Security indices to see if these people were real, did they have Social Security numbers, things like that."

He said that most of the names and numbers run by the bureau did not match up to Social Security records, and that he was unaware of cases of governmental abuse in the requests. Mr. Huse added that "on a big-volume name check like that you wouldn't really know if you had a frivolous name thrown in or not."
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So the issue really is as far as I'm concerned (and really most American's), "Will the FBI swoop into my house and drag me and mine away because of info shared between government offices." Conspiracy Theorists will cry out that the issue as they see it is to protect ALL Americans from ALL government conspiracies. It may indeed be their intent but is that what they would DO if by stopping interagency sharing of info they would allow an evil person to continue his devious plots and plans unabated. Who would be howling if the government agencies had the info to take the bad guy out of circulation but would or could not because of interagency squabbles. It looks to me like the Social Security and FBI put a few safeguards in place to watch for abuse. I say they should continue working hand in hand as they are and at least share if SS #'s are valid and more info if they are not. Where do we draw the line otherwise?