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Social Security Urged to Delay Internet Access

By Judith Havemann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 1997; Page A15

The chairman of the House Social Security subcommittee asked acting Social Security Commissioner John A. Callahan yesterday to delay plans to make Social Security information available on the Internet.

"I am not convinced that the Social Security Administration has reached a safe balance between user privacy and easy access to records," said Rep. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).

Saying he saw "no reason to hastily proceed," Bunning asked Callahan to wait until a permanent Social Security commissioner can be confirmed, hearings can be held and the administration can work with Congress "so that this program can earn the support of the American public."

The Social Security Administration said yesterday it would begin to make calculations of individual future retirement benefits available on the Internet by the end of the year. The earnings and tax histories on which the calculations are based will continue to be available exclusively by mail.

Last March, the government unveiled a broader Social Security Internet service that could be accessed through the use of a name, Social Security number, date of birth, place of birth, and mother's maiden name. It was shut down after several weeks because of concerns about the privacy of earnings records.

The new service will require computer users to make a specific e-mail request that their individual benefit estimates be "unlocked" for Internet access. They will receive back by e-mail from Social Security an activation code to open their records.

Activation codes will be provided only to beneficiaries who have a verifiable, individual Internet account -- such as through an employer or an online subscriber service. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (D-Pa.) implored Callahan yesterday in a letter to require that Social Security verify e-mail accounts before sending out any security codes or data.

Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), Bunning's Senate counterpart as Social Security subcommittee chairman, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, lauded the improvements in privacy protection. Information access is an important part of retirement planning, Grassley said, "but planning for retirement shouldn't open you up to economic blackmail."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company



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