Driver’s License… And Social Security Number, Please!

A weird thing happened to me recently during a traffic stop. The cop demanded the usual stuff — license, registration. But then he demanded one more thing — my Social Security number.

Under duress, I gave it to him.

Maybe you remember when Social Security numbers were “not to be used for purposes of identification.” It actually said so, right there on the card.

Well, it used to.

So much for that. As usual, per the frog in the ever-warming pot of water, we do not notice the change until it is too late to change anything.

Our SS number is now the de facto — and in a very real sense, the de jure — national ID. De facto, because it’s almost impossible to transact any business without one. De jure, because the law increasingly does require it for purposes of identification, even though the original law said it never would be used for such purposes.

But why be worried (as opposed to merely irritated) about being forced to cough up one’s Social Security number over a routine traffic stop?

Let’s count the ways.

First, there’s very real potential for identity theft — possibly, by the cop who issued you the ticket … or perhaps a quasi-cop (i.e., a clerk) down at the cop shop who has access to the paperwork. These people may or may not be trustworthy, but we know for certain the government is an epicenter of untrustworthiness. Of incompetence. Especially when it comes to the handling of information that might cause problems if it falls into the wrong hands. This point need not be elaborated any further than it is necessary to belabor the dangers of walking down a slippery sidewalk.

Keep in mind that since your Social Security number is, in fact, used for purposes of identification — and much more, besides (including credit history) its leakage could cause you problems you don’t even want to know about. And now, it’s written on the back of a traffic ticket that’s probably accessible to scores of potential no-good-niks down at the cop shop.

The other problem relates to the government’s money-lust.

They want your sosh because it’ll be easier to sic debt collectors on you in the event you welsh on what you “owe.” Apparently, there are crafty devils out there with fake licenses who used to “get away” with not handing over the money the government thinks it’s entitled to just snatch from you. But it’s harder to pass off a fake Social Security number — and it’s also much easier to get you to pay up. Even those who do not fear the DMV and its points — or the insurance mafia — will usually cringe when contemplating the prospect of a black mark showing up on their credit report.

The SSN number makes it almost impossible to evade Uncle. And that is precisely the point, from their point-of-view.

Now, technically, the cops are only entitled to ask for your Social Security number — and you are not necessarily obliged to give it.

There is something called the Privacy Act of 1974 which reads as follows:

“It shall be unlawful for any Federal, State or local government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual’s refusal to disclose his social security account number.” Sec. 7(a)(1).

It sounds reassuring — like the Fourth Amendment’s gabble about no “unreasonable” searches absent “probable cause.” Technically, this is the law. Operationally, you are going to be stopped for no particular reason (e.g., “safety/sobriety checkpoints”) and if you don’t consent to being searched, they’ll find some pretext for doing so (e.g., a dog “alerts” on you/your car) or at the very least, hassle you to the point that you give in.

Same here.

Technically, you have the right to demand the cop identify the specific law that requires you to provide your Social Security number — and then to specify how, exactly, your Social Security number will be used. The cop will probably not be able to do either. Instead he will cite “the law” (generally) and now the fun begins. In most contests between an armed man and an unarmed victim, the armed man typically emerges the victor.

First, you’re under duress (a concept Clovers do not grok).

Most people are rightly nervous when dealing with someone who carries a gun for a living. Arguing with him over what “the law” is will have the same effect as making funny faces at an ape behind bars usually does.

If you decline to provide your SSN, the odds are very good that — minimally — you will be “detained” until such time as they can “confirm by some other method” (got that from the horse’s mouth) that you are really you — which is what they will usually claim they need the SSN for.

In other words, the SSN is now officially being used for purposes of identification — just as they (the authors of Social Security, all those years ago) swore up and down it never would be. It was only going to be a government social insurance program, to keep old folks from shivering and starving in the winter. Never to be the basis for a nationwide cattle-cataloging system.

Surprise, surprise.

They lied.

Again.

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10 Responses to “Driver’s License… And Social Security Number, Please!”

  1. CJ says:

    I’m curious in what state they’re asking for SSNs on the side of the road? I’ve had police interactions in five different states troughout my lifetime and I’ve never been asked for that. They always ask for name and date of birth as you can be uniquely identified with those two pieces of information (even by creditors).

    Back in the 90s in my home state of Washington, they started requiring your SSN when getting a license, but they never printed it on the ID card like some stated used to. Supposedly, the new requirement was due to new laws meant to help find those who try to hide from child support obligations. This never bothered me as I have confidence in their ability to keep it secret, unlike ticket or court records which can be accessed by the public.

    If I were asked for my SSN in the context of a traffic stop, I personally wouldn’t give it. However, I’m not affraid of getting arested. My lawyer needs to be able to eat too. 😉

  2. Comment says:

    When did this so. Call law go into effect the checks us vets all the time we use only the last 4 digits that’s a better system

  3. Joe Swanson says:

    Yet, this number of great importance, the key to your working life, financial health and credit is printed on cardboard and contains no state of the art anti-forgery prevention measures. Ah the government protects their money (cash) but our security gets nothing to deter or prevent forgery. Our SSN is a national ID, let’s face, but let’s treat it and make it safe. I’m tired of people gaming laws, regulations and costing us, as a country billions and potentially me, as an individual, my credit history and benefits. Let’s have a real social security card that IS secure and tamperproof. It could come in two forms, one for citizens and one for legal residents. The citizen version should be used for ID, SSN purposes, but with new coded means of scanning for SSN protection (no actual SSN number exposed), domestic travel ID, voting…yes, I said voting. The legal resident version would be for ID, SSN (coded), domestic travel. We have differential drivers licenses in IL (teen restricted vs. full privilege). Dang, we need to get smart and do something.

  4. consent-to-be-governed says:

    There is no new law with regards to providing a SSN for any reason to any party except the SSA and IRS.
    Phil Collins sang I have a name and I have a number…

    The name on the card and the corresponding number on card do not belong to you, see back of card, and the name although it sounds like yours and has the exact same spelling is not you. The SSA is a trust, the card is given to the beneficiary of the trust to use in their system to get benefits. Did you endorse the card as the beneficiary? How can you “give” trust res [property] to a perfect stranger. The beneficiaries of a trust only take they do not give.

    News flash… when the red lights are activated and you and your fine automobile are on the side of the road you are detained, seized and arrested at that time. The fine officer has arrested you and technically should remind you of your right to remain silent, but he has failed to so. In the unlikely event that you say something that leads to your custodial arrest it would be at this point that you are removed from your automobile and placed in hand cuffs and then put into a paddy wagon for transport to the magistrate. If you are not under custodial arrest you are being detained and the clock is ticking. If the officer has no grounds to detain you he must release the captive. It would not hurt to ask if you are free to go [leave], if he says no you are not free to leave then you are in a custodial arrest and should let him/her know that you are invoking your fundamentally protected rights to remain silent and that you would like legal representation right now on the side of the road. Please contact a public defender and let them know that you are in need of their services. Come quickly!

    News flash #2… if you are planning on traveling in an automobile in America you better learn the Law, which protects you from unwarranted searches and seizures. Being fearful and compliant is the outcome of too many years in the public school system in which most people have been indoctrinated not to question authority and hold the belief that there are Laws that govern and control every facet of your life from cradle to grave. The fact is that the Law protects you and reciting these protections to the nice officer in a uniform on the side of the road is your duty and responsibility. In the event that you are placed in a custodial arrest, you will then have the opportunity to explain how your rights were violated to the Judge and DA. For those people that refuse to do these things enjoy your life living in fear.

  5. Lysdexic says:

    So what happens if I have a sudden outbreak of dyslexia and transpose the last few numbers when I tell the officer my SS# (e.g. saying it’s “1221” when it’s actually “2112”)? After all, it’s an honest mistake (because I said so!).

    I’d guess it would depend on if they have the capability to instantly verify it’s accuracy, which I assume they do.

    But if they can verify my identity and correct SS# so easily then they don’t need my SS# to verify my identity. It seems more like they’re trying to verify our SS# using our identity (for the financial/debt-collection purposes mentioned in the article). Besides, our info in the SS database has no associated physical description beyond our age (or a photo), so checking the number against a Driver’s License wouldn’t detect a false/stolen identity so long as whoever was using someone else’s SS# also had a forged Driver’s License (or had a real one issued) with the correct name/DOB associated with the SS#.

  6. Tom says:

    They didn’t lie – arch conservative conspiracy theorists scared people so much and put so much needless fear into people’s minds that it rendered a true national ID card politically impossible to implement. Thus why we’re stuck with a completely nonsensical mish-mash — using Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses for purposes for which they were never intended and are in many respects ill-suited.

  7. David Hawkings says:

    This was really informative. I didn’t know that cops would take your SSN. I thought a drivers license number would be just fine. I’m glad I stumbled across this article so that I can be more cautious in the future.

  8. Steven says:

    Tell the cop you dont know your ss number. Its up to him to prove that you do know it. Ask him if he knows what DNA stands for and I bet 99.999% will not know . And ask him if he knows his driver license number and again I bet he wont

  9. chester says:

    Very impressive read. I had a chimney fire where I gave wrong address after we had subdivided the property. While talking to the gentleman he consequently asked for my first, middle, and last names, mailing address, and social security number which I thought nothing of at the time. Later when I calmed down from the fire I thought that was strange as I have been a victim of identity theft credit card charges. Do they also have the right to sell my info? It seems disconcerting.

  10. Fay Roe says:

    I LOVE THIS AUTHOR! Eric Peters.