New Social Security cards that would be more resistant to counterfeiting may be delayed past the Oct. 31 deadline for them because of protests that have forced the government to rewrite its bidding specifications.

As part of the major Social Security bill passed earlier this year, Congress ordered that new and replacement cards be printed on banknote paper.

The Social Security Administration published bidding specifications for the new cards in late spring. Protests, which threatened to turn into court action, quickly began arriving from disappointed bidders. Officials concluded that only one company had the equipment to meet the specifications, as written.

Social Security officials said last week that they will make the specifications more flexible, send them to 30 potential bidders and change the bid deadline to Aug. 26.

The contract could be a fat one for the winning bidder. Social Security estimates that it will need 35 million new and replacement cards the first year of the contract--at four cents a card, plus overhead--and 25 million each year after that.

It says that the card's security is in doubt as long as documents used to obtain the card, such as birth certificates, can be counterfeited. It also argues the counterfeit-resistant card will be useless until all Americans have it, which will take several generations.

The General Accounting Office estimates that crimes based on false identification, including false and legitimate Social Security numbers, cost taxpayers more than $15 billion a year.