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COMPANY TO CURB SOCIAL SECURITY INFORMATION.

Byline: Carolyn Thompson Associated Press

Lexis-Nexis has modified its new on-line locator service after complaints that its disclosure of Social Security numbers could give subscribers access to confidential financial records.

The service, introduced June 1, still displays the name, birth date, current and former addresses, telephone number and in some cases maiden name of virtually anyone who ever has applied for any type of credit.

But it stopped issuing Social Security numbers Tuesday.

The change was greeted positively by the Social Security Administration and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based privacy advocacy group. Both had expressed concern over the potential for fraud and other abuse.

``The Social Security number is basically turning into a de facto national identifier,'' said David Banisar, an EPIC policy analyst. ``Once you obtain someone's Social Security number . . . it opens up the opportunity to obtain an immense amount of public information about an individual.''

While government agencies such as the IRS are prohibited from distributing Social Security numbers by the Privacy Act, there is no equivalent regulation in the private sector, Social Security Administration spokesman Phil Gambino said.

``Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration does not have a copyright on the Social Security number. It never has,'' Gambino said. He said the administration was in the process of writing to Lexis-Nexis to ask it to stop distributing Social Security numbers when the company did so.

Fraudulently obtained Social Security numbers have been used by people to get credit and even jobs.

In modifying its so-called ``P-Trak Person Locator Service,'' Lexis-Nexis said the potential for abuse would not be as great a concern if banking and other industries didn't use the numbers as access codes to private files.

``There tends to be a perception that it's a secret when it's given out every day,'' corporate counsel Steven Emmert said. ``People write them on checks, on every application you can think of. . . . They're freely given out all the time.''

``If the industry wasn't relying on something that wasn't confidential to begin with, probably these (security breaches) would not happen,'' Emmert said.

The locator service was designed to attract business from trustees, journalists, lawyers and law enforcement agencies in search of heirs, witnesses, suspected criminals and people named in lawsuits, Emmert said.

The information, gathered from credit reports, is part of a database provided to Lexis-Nexis by TransUnion, one of the nation's three leading credit bureaus, Emmert said. It is available to most of Lexis-Nexis' 744,000 subscribers.

While the service no longer displays a person's Social Security number, a subscriber who already knows a specific number can use it to access other information.

``If you wanted to search on your own Social Security number, if there's a record on it, you would pull it up,'' Emmert said. ``If you searched on your name and got your record, it would not.''

EPIC's Banisar said that while the change was a step in the right direction, his group would prefer to see the entire person locator service discontinued. He criticized TransUnion's sale of the information.

``As a general tenet of privacy law, an individual ought to be asked whether this is acceptable before (information about them) is sold,'' he said. ``A person can get out of a phone book, but there doesn't seem to be much opportunity to do that here.''
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 14, 1996
Words:551
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