Social Security Administration Debates Privacy Issue

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Officials of the Social Security Administration (SSA) are facing concerns over the necessity to protect the privacy of American citizens in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The SSA chief criminal investigator feels the agency has a responsibility to disclose personal tax records, Social Security numbers, and other data to law enforcement agencies investigating terrorist activities. The current SSA commissioner, Larry Massanari, thinks that kind of information sharing is going too far.

Under current law, records cannot be shared with law enforcement officials unless it is determined that life-threatening circumstances exist.

SSA inspector general, James Huse, is pushing Congress for a change in the rules and has argued that information, particularly non-tax related information, be made available to police agencies in any felony investigation.

Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is urging officials to compromise if necessary to resolve this issue. "This isn't the time for bureaucratic turf battles. This is the time for agencies to come together to fight terrorism."

Meanwhile, the IRS has agreed to help law enforcement agencies by authorizing disclosures of certain tax records, however at this point the agency has agreed to provide such information for only 60 days.

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