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Come Saturday Morning: A Dangerous “Reform”

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already familiar with how various persons, in the name of “reform” and “efficiency”, seek to destroy any part of American society that might benefit someone who isn’t already rich and/or powerful. Unions are of course prime targets; so is the public sector, from local governments all the way up to the federal level.

The old-age insurance part of Social Security has been under attack ever since its creation, and the nature and bogosity of the most famous attacks on it haven’t changed much over the decades. But in the last few years, another portion of Social Security, its disability benefits program, has suffered a number of attacks from “reformers” — and some of the worst are apparently from people embedded in the agency.

The latest attack involves the planned shrinking and eventual closing of dozens of Social Security claims hearing offices (and eventually, probably the majority of the field offices) nationwide in favor of a handful of “Case Assistance Centers” and “Decision Writing Assistance Centers”, most of which will be in Baltimore. (One of the official justifications for this will be to comply with the GSA mandates to reduce the carbon and space footprints of federal facilties, but it’s quite possible to comply with those mandates without taking away tens of thousands of jobs from cities all over the nation.) The plan is that eventually, instead of being able to walk into a local Social Security office and file a claim or appeal for free (which is what claimants can do now) and be reimbursed for travel expenses if you live more than seventy-five miles from the nearest office, persons needing disability benefits will have to go to a law office and use that office’s secured (one hopes) internet “tubes” to make their filings or appeals electronically, and get charged a few hundred bucks an hour for that privilege.

But there’s one small problem with this: In the era of Heartbleed and ever-more-devious ways to exploit weaknesses in what everyone thought were “secure” encryption systems like OpenSSL, transmitting claims online, even via allegedly secure internet connections, is looking more and more like Russian roulette. This is especially true for anything involving Social Security, which has to be especially careful as stealing legit Social Security numbers is a prime goal of criminally-minded hackers worldwide. In fact, even before Heartbleed, the SSA website was (and still is) warning would-be claimants not to transmit SSNs or claims information over the internet because it’s not secure. (See also the screenshot that illustrates this post.)

If you’d like to nip this “reform” in the bud, the best way to do that would be to contact your local congresscritters. This is especially true if your city is one of those with a Social Security field office or hearing office. Between Heartbleed and the NSA (and perhaps both together), the idea that there is such a thing as a “secure” internet connection is looking ever more laughable.

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