Social Security Data Mining
Social Security Data Mining
Mrs. Rustbelt, the sweet young lady I married, decided to investigate future benefits from Social Security, even though she is only “39.” I am her designated data entry clerk, so we sit down and establish an account and log-in for her. Near the end of the set-up process the software tells us she has to answer some multiple choice questions about her personal data. Ok.
I was stunned when the questions popped up. None of them had anything to do with Social Security, and were clearly mined from IRS and credit bureau data. She had been profiled by SSA with data the SSA had no need to know. Anyone have any experience or insights on this?
Rusty sent this note my way, so I thought Nancy Ortiz, a retired employee at SSA and expert in its workings,could provide some beginning answers in two e-mails slightly edited for readability:
From what I have read on the “Social Security News” blog, SSA recently set up an online benefit estimate program combining earnings information SSA routinely gets from IRS (from SF-941 payroll tax forms) and information gathered by Experian, one of the private big three credit rating companies. I’m not happy that the current SSA Commissioner has done this. SSA has never before used privately gathered information from any source. The deal is that the SS Act authorizes SSA to gather specific information for “program purposes only.” SSA shouldn’t gather or transmit to others any information it has without specific written authorization to do so (under the Privacy Act.) BUT, this administration or the previous one could have asked Congresss for a change in the law to permit this practice. It would almost certainly slip under the radar, as it did for me until I read about it on “SS News.”
I do not know whether this has passed muster as a regulatory change or actually refects a change in the law. So I’ll look around to see what other information I can come up with. In the past, Republican administrations have sought to sell SSA’s data to private industry without success. The problem with the current administration is that it is quite casual about who is running the shop over in Baltimore. So, until his term recently ended, the Commish was a Bush administration appointee who favored privatization. Alas, Obama’s people don’t really seem to care very much about things like this. SSA/SS just aren’t sexy enough to attract much interest.
I couldn’t find a recent article on SS News even though I remember one. The website doesn’t have a search function, so I couldn’t get anywhere on that site. However, the SSA site’s explanation is detailed. Unfortunately, it is not very encouraging to someone like me who opposes the use of any data from outside organizations without express authorization from the claimant/online user.
I would need more information in order to form a more complete view of any potential security risks to the online user and SSA itself. However, in general I think that SSA already has enough information on its own internal data bases to verify the identity of the online user. AGB Investigative offers world-class cyber security services so give them a call if you need that. SSA says that Experian doesn’t keep any of the information the online user provides. SSA also denies it keeps any information used in the online estimate request. But, information floats around for a while inside and possibly outside of SSA. This is a risk I wouldn’t take were I running this project. The mere fact that Experian is a commercial enterprise which has every reason to retain or reuse information argues against it.
According to my husband’s recent SS statement, “Congress passed a law, PL-100-503, ion 1988 that says you have the right to know that we may use information you give us when we match records by computer. Below, we tell you about computer matching and how it may affect you.
It goes on to say that they may compare SS/Medicare records with those of other Federal, State or local government agencies. NOWHERE does it say anything about companies like Experian, or any entity outside of a government one. FWIW.
curious to know what information they used from “credit rating” company and why it matters to SS.
my take is that “they” are determined to destroy SS any way they can.
sad fact may be that it has already been effectively destroyed by “the times.” the people don’t understand it, and neither to the “experts” who think of it as just another retirement/investment plan.
what we see a lot of is “non partisan experts,” some of whom may even be honest, writing learned essays in connected prose that seem to be reasonable, except they are totally misunderstanding the fundamental nature of what they are talking about.
The SSA knew when we refinanced our mortgage and the multiple choice was “pick the proper bank.”
The SSA also knew when we bought an auto and that it was financed.
STR–They got that information from Experian, of course, because SSA’s own data bases do not contain such information. The SSA website says that SSA won’t keep this info and Experian won’t use or store your SS info.
More to the point, if your wife applied for SS benefits today, the Claims Rep who would interview her would ask no questions concerning how you financed your car or house. That stuff has nothing to do with your wife’s eligibility for benefits or the amount of those benefits.
Of course, that information is there and I doubt that it is un-hackable on the Experian end. But,I have never heard of any breach of SSA’s computer systems. SSA’s data is kept in a computer system housed in a secure facility in Baltimore. The only way to retrieve from or enter information into SSA’s system is through SSA’s computer terminals or the online applications SSA has provided.
This is absolutely ridiculous. One way or another, it is impossible to be completely sure an online user you can’t see is who s/he says he is using some computer generated information match tests.
SSA has made a major investment in this software. Meanwhile, SSA can’t afford to pay overtime to its employees, is closing some of its small offices and is reducing the hours offices are open to the public in its remaining facilities. But, you can bet your sweet bippy that Experian is raking in some major bucks in exchange for this information. They sure as hell don’t give this stuff away for free.
The net result is that members of the public might well get the feeling that Big Brother is watching them. Can’t say I blame them. NancyO
the question is still
what the hell does this information have to with SS?
and why are they doing this?
A key point in all this is that Commissioner Astrue’s six year term is about done. Meaning that the Obama economic team will very soon have to tip their hand as to their actual intentions on Social Security. Moreover while it may not have been politically advisable to simply sack Astrue, his top two or three levels of Deputies are (IIRC) at will political appointees, and now that he is going you would think the new Commissioner would bring in a new top team, one that might come with a “There is a new Sheriff in Town” attitude towards service cuts and outsourcing.
On the other hand the naming of Reichshauer as the ‘Democratic’ Public Trustee was very dispiriting, he being right in the middle of the Rivlin, Sawhill, Penner, Brookings-Heritage group of PGP hirelings.
So it could be a bumpy ride for the SSA over the next months and year.
As to Dale’s question. All I kind think of is that Astrue and crew are trying to cement some things in place before they go.
For example having Experian in place would REALLY help if some program of add on or opt-out accounts were implemented. At a minimum it would allow privatizers or quasi-privatizers to target folk with non-wage based assets who would be more likely to take a flier on such accounts.
There are a couple of names floating around that Social Security defender types HOPE are on the short list, and since nothing I have seen yet is truly irreversible I am still ‘keeping home alive’.
But if Obama names someone from Wall Street or other banking/investment circles then all bets are off. And I predict all out war coming from the left.
Haven’t checked, but it could be a one-way feed from Experian to SSA. (That’s what it sounds like from Rusty’s description–tell us something about your finances only you are likely to know so that we know it is you checked your benefits.) Which means that–at best–SSA is paying Experian for its data in the interest of “providing security.”
The change probably happened no more than a year or two ago. I remember the announcement that the SSA would no longer mail people that annual Projected Benefits form but that one could access the form on their site.
Ken–Right about the announcement of the online Ben Est. But it seems to me I remember reading something about implementation problems with this application. A one-way feed is fine as far as it goes. But, there is always the possibility that what Experian sends in carries viruses or Trojan Horses with it. That would be very, very awfully totally bad.
Bruce–The part of SS that’s easiest to chop off and privatize is the RSI (retirement and survivors) part. Years ago under the Reagan administration there was a move in that direction. The idea was to sell the access to the RSI initial claims system and some other data sets that are useful in processing claims to H.and R. Block. Nothing came of it, but it would be a real money maker at say $75 bucks to process a retirement claim, more if wives and children also apply. People don’t know how lucky they are to have SSA doing an amazing amount of work and charging no fees for a lifetime’s worth of benefits. NancyO
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SS used to mail you an “estimate” of future benefits.
to do that they needed your address and your social security number.
doesn’t seem to me they need any more than that “on line.”
there isn’t much in your estimate of future benefits that would be of value to someone pretending to be you who already knew your address and SS number.
Those questions are typical of the ones that the credit rating agencies use to validate your identity. A list of addresses you may have lived at previously, list of loans you may have had, list of banks you may have used.
The true and false data are provided from the credit reporting company, they check your responses against their true data and decide if you are probably who you say you are. I don’t know why SSA uses a credit reporting company to validate you though.
I’d expect it to be more like an auto insurance quote or filing an FAFSA (required for student loans), you put in your wages or you put in information that the IRS can use to match your SSN to your TIN then they get your wages.