The protection of Social Security numbers (SSNs) from identity thieves has emerged as a hot news topic in the past few weeks. In California, it was revealed that, for the past three years, the Secretary of State’s office has been selling in bulk electronic UCC filings containing SSNs. Those filings were available to the public on the Secretary’s website, so that lenders and creditors could verify the availability of personal property used as collateral. Approximately one-third of the state’s two million UCC filings contained SSNs. Secretary of State Debra Bowen immediately shut off web-based access to the UCC filings and took down the offending part of the website.
Colorado also recently addressed an identical problem with its UCC filing website. Several years ago, the state redacted SSNs from 610,000 filings and issued new UCC forms that do not require SSNs. However, many financial institutions continued to use the old forms. Like California, Colorado took down its filing website. At the same time, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin reportedly has refused to remove similar UCC filings.
The other major SSN story this week was that Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law a bill, H.B. 2061, that permits county and court clerks to disclose, “in the ordinary course of business,” SSNs contained in documents those clerks possess. It has been reported that the legislation was a reaction to a February 23 ruling by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that such disclosures were violations of state and federal privacy laws and were punishable by prison terms and fines.
The developments in California, Colorado, and Texas are surprising, in part because the unauthorized acquisition of computerized data including SSNs, in conjunction with a first name or first initial and last name, constitutes a security breach triggering notification requirements in those states. Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1798.29, 1798.82; Colo. Rev. Stat. § 6-1-716; Tex. Bus. & Comm. Code § 48.002(1)(a). The new Texas legislation appears to permit SSN disclosure by county and court clerks, notwithstanding any other applicable Texas law.