SB 133/HB 633 Fails to Address Problem of Social Security Numbers Appearing in Online Public Records and Infringes on Free Speech

Richmond, VA— The ACLU of Virginia has asked Governor Tim Kaine to veto or amend a bill that prohibits individuals from disseminating Social Security Numbers legally obtained from government websites.
If signed into law, the ACLU is prepared to challenge the measure in court.
“The ACLU is a staunch supporter of laws that prevent the government from allowing Social Security Numbers to appear on publicly accessible websites,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “but the government can’t put the numbers online and then turn around prevent the public from using those numbers.”
“This is a grossly misplaced bill that attempts to mask the fact that Virginia’s lawmakers have failed to prevent Social Security Numbers from being placed online in the first place,” added Willis. “If Social Security Numbers were removed from public records when they are placed online, there would be no need for this bill.”
Privacy rights advocates point out that there are thousands of Social Security Numbers available in online government records in Virginia, especially in real estate transactions. Some of the advocates have attempted to embarrass legislators into taking action by obtaining Social Security Numbers from government websites and publishing them on their own websites.
SB 133 (Houck) and HB 633 (May) have passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate and are being conveyed to the Governor for his signature. The ACLU is recommending that the Governor either veto the legislation or amend it so that the prohibition on dissemination of Social Security Numbers applies only to commercial speech. This would allow privacy advocates to continue to pressure legislators by publishing Social Security Numbers found online, but might deter some data mining.
However, even if amended the law is not likely to affect those who obtain Social Security Numbers for fraudulent purposes. Only a prohibition against the numbers appearing online in the first place will accomplish that.
The ACLU is also asking for a one-year sunset on the amended version of the bill because it may unconstitutionally restrict commercial speech.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Governor is available at the following link: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20080306-SB-133-hb633.pdf.

Contacts: Kent Willis, (office) 804/644-8022

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