ACLU of Ohio Questions City of Parma Policy on Social Security Numbers

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
March 17, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU of Ohio
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Wednesday, March 17, 1999

CLEVELAND–In a letter directed to the Parma City Law Department, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today called into question an ordinance requiring landlords to collect the social security numbers of their tenants.

Parma Codified Ordinance 183.71 requires landlords to provide the city with quarterly reports including the names, addresses and social security numbers of their tenants.

According to a letter signed by ACLU Legal Director Raymond Vasvari, the policy may violate citizens’ rights under the federal Privacy Act of 1974 and may exceed the city’s authority to collect and use social security numbers under Section 405 of the Social Security Act. The problem, said Vasvari, is privacy:

“Federal law allows a city to collect and use social security numbers in limited ways. City governments can require you to provide them with your social security number for tax purposes, but nothing in the law allows them to make you disclose that number to your landlord.”

The ACLU is concerned that the forced disclosure of social security numbers can lead to a sort of fraud called “identity theft,” where imposters armed with a person’s name and social security number can raid bank accounts, establish fraudulent credit cards, and ruin a victim’s credit. The problem is widespread, and was noted in a 1994 Ohio Supreme Court decision which recognized a constitutional right to keep social security numbers out of the hands of many third parties.

While the ACLU recognizes the right to use social security numbers to collect local income taxes, it objects to requiring landlords to collect the information from their tenants. “Your social security number is like the key to your financial life,” Vasvari said today, “and we are uncomfortable with any ordinance which requires every tenant in Parma to hand over that key to his landlord.”

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