Why do you need that number?

Last night I went to an event at my daughter’s school, meeting people, filling out forms, and generally getting ready for the school year starting on Monday. One of the documents required my driver’s license number. Another required my social security number. I was reluctant to give either, generating a … *ahem* … discussion about why I was not trusting enough to provide those numbers.

The issue is so much more complex than trusting someone. There’s the complicated philosophical issue of privacy, and the equally complicated issue of identity theft. Where is this document going to be stored? How many people, and who, will have access to it? What is the data retention policy? How are these documents disposed of, if and when they are disposed of? I doubt that the school even *has* a data retention policy, let alone expecting anyone there last night knowing what it is.

Wandering around the classroom last night, I had access (without even turning over papers) to several social security numbers. With those numbers, I could obtain credit reports, mortgages, credit cards, or pretty much whatever I wanted, given time and a few interpersonal contacts.

So, 6 years from now (or whenever) will that file still be stored somewhere? Who will have access to it then? How much more computerized will the whole world be then? I suspect that the value of a social security number will only grow as we become more digital.

Is this all just baseless paranoia? How about you ask the 4.5% of Americans (Federal Trade Commission statistical survey) who were affected last year, to the tune of $4,500 apiece, not to mention the hassle and time involved. We’re not talking about someone stealing your wallet. We’re talking about someone being able to do stuff as you. And the more digital we become, the more serious that gets.

So this has almost nothing to do with trust, and everything to do with understanding that the world works differently than it did 20, or even 10, years ago. However, explaining all this to someone who is upset that I don’t trust them is not particularly easy.