White House, Equifax agree Social Security numbers aren’t working as identifiers.

White House, Equifax Agree It Might Not Be an Amazing Idea to Use Social Security Numbers as IDs

White House, Equifax Agree It Might Not Be an Amazing Idea to Use Social Security Numbers as IDs

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 3 2017 5:13 PM

White House, Equifax Agree It Might Not Be an Amazing Idea to Use Social Security Numbers as IDs

Former-CEO-Equifax-Richard-Smith-Testifies-To-Senate-Subcommittee-On-Companys-Massive-Data-Breach
Former Equifax CEO Richard Smith testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After the hack of credit agency Equifax exposed the Social Security numbers of 145.5 million people back in May, the White House is now looking for a more secure and technologically attuned identification system. Rob Joyce, a special assistant to President Trump, said at a Washington Post event on Tuesday that administration has directed federal agencies to look for ways to phase out the use of SSNs as identifiers. “Every time we use the Social Security number you put it at risk,” Joyce told the conference.

Former Equifax CEO Richard Smith similarly testified to the House Energy and Commerce Committee—also on Tuesday—that the U.S. needs to stop relying on SSNs. Smith, who recently stepped down due to the fallout from the breach, said to the committee, “It is time to have identity verification procedures that match the technological age in which we live.”

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It doesn’t seem as if the White House has settled on a solution just yet, though Joyce did mention the possibility of using public key cryptography, a popular method for encrypting messages. Many have been pushing for this change given today’s tech landscape—even the Social Security Administration claims that the nine-digit numbers weren’t intended to be the ubiquitous identifiers that they are today. “The Social Security number system surpassed its original purpose long ago—and now it’s floundering,” Lily Hay Newman wrote in Slate in 2015. Things have only gotten worse in the two years since.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.