Kindergarten Through 12th Grade Schools’ Collection and Use of Social Security Numbers
To assess kindergarten through 12th grade (K‑12) schools’ collection and use of Social Security numbers (SSN) and the potential risks associated with current practices.
Millions of children enroll in K‑12 schools each year. To assist in this process, K‑12 schools may collect and use SSNs for various purposes. Although no single Federal law regulates overall use and disclosure of SSNs by K‑12 schools, the Privacy Act of 1974, Social Security Act, and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 , contain provisions that govern disclosure and use of SSNs.
To view the full report, visit http://www.ssa.gov/oig/ADOBEPDF/A-08-10-11057.pdf
Despite the increasing threat of identity theft, our review of State laws and school policies and practices disclosed that K‑12 schools’ collection and use of SSNs was widespread. We determined that many K‑12 schools used SSNs as the primary student identifier or for other purposes, even when another identifier would have sufficed. In addition, there has been a growing trend among State Departments of Education to establish longitudinal databases, which may include SSNs, of K‑12 children to track students’ progress over time. While some State laws may require that K‑12 schools collect SSNs in some instances, we believe some do so as a matter of convenience. However, we do not believe administrative convenience should ever be more important than safeguarding children’s personal information.
We recommend that SSA:
1. Coordinate with State Departments of Education and K‑12 school systems to inform the education community about the potential risks associated with using SSNs as student identifiers or for other purposes.
2. Encourage State Departments of Education and K‑12 schools to reduce unnecessary collection and use of SSNs and implement stringent safeguards to protect SSNs when collected
3. Promote the best practices of States and K‑12 schools that have taken steps to limit SSN collection and use.
SSA agreed with our recommendations.