January 29, 1996
Mr. Michael Kuzma
P.O. Box 1046
Buffalo, NY 14207
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Kuzma:
I have received your letter of January 11. According to your letter, the questionnaires that you were required to complete in conjunction with the possibility of serving on a jury included the submission of your social security number. It is your view that this requirement violates the federal Privacy Act, and you asked "what action, if any, [this] office intends to take to ensure that the Commissioner of Jurors for Erie County modifies its juror questionnaires to comport with the Privacy Act of 1974."
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, the Committee on Open Government is authorized to provide advice concerning access to and, in part, the collection of information by entities of government in New York. The Committee is not empowered to enforce the statutes within its advisory jurisdiction or the federal Privacy Act.
Second, as you may be aware, the only aspect of the federal Privacy Act (5 USC §552a) that pertains to state and local governments involves social security numbers, and §7 of the Act states that:
"(a)(1) [I]t shall be unlawful for any Federal, State or local government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual's refusal to disclose his social security number.
(2) the provision of paragraph (a) of this subsection shall not apply with respect to --
(A) any disclosure which is required by Federal Statute, or
(B) the disclosure of a social security number to any Federal, State, or local agency maintaining a system of records in existence and operating before January 1, 1975, if such disclosure was required under statute or regulation adopted prior to such date to verify the identity of an individual
(b) Any Federal, State, or local government agency which requests an individual to disclose his social security account number shall inform that individual whether that disclosure is mandatory or voluntary, by what statutory or other authority such number is solicited, and what uses will be made of it."
The quoted provision places limitations upon the collection and use of social security numbers by government, and unless "grandfathered in" under the Privacy Act, agencies cannot require the submission of social security numbers, except in conjunction with social security or other statutorily authorized purposes.
While this office cannot enforce the Privacy Act, in an effort to enhance compliance with law, copies of this opinion will be forwarded to the Erie County Commissioner of Jurors and the Office of Court Administration. In addition, you might want to contact the Office of Information and Privacy, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 20530.
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Mehrl F. King, Commissioner