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NYT: Social Security opened its files for FBI

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY): The government’s new policy has “real civil liberties implications for abuse.”

More Big Brother crap — your privacy rights slip away silently for homeland security’s sake.

The Social Security Administration has relaxed its privacy restrictions and searched thousands of its files at the request of the F.B.I. as part of terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, newly disclosed records and interviews show.

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.

The Internal Revenue Service also worked with the bureau and the Social Security agency to provide income and taxpayer information in terror inquiries, law enforcement officials said. Officials said the I.R.S. information was limited because legal restrictions prevented the sharing of taxpayer information except by court order or in cases of “imminent danger” or other exemptions. The tax agency refused to comment. [Let’s see, so what does that broad statement NOT cover?!]

The Social Security memorandums were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group here. Copies were provided to The New York Times.

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 F.B.I. 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.”

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who has sought information from the Social Security agency on the issue, said the new policy had “real civil liberties implications for abuse.” Ms. Maloney questioned whether Congress was adequately informed.

“If we don’t know when the Social Security Administration decides to change its rules to disclose personal information,” she said, “I think Americans have a right to be skeptical about their privacy.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding