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Legislature 2004

Bill protects teachers' information

Educators seek a law that would restrict the state's release of their Social Security numbers.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published April 29, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - If you think your Social Security number is confidential, think again.

Teachers in Florida want the Legislature to pass a law restricting state release of their numbers. But there's a big hitch: Banks, mortgage companies and other businesses rely on those nine-digit numbers to identify customers.

The request was prompted by the discovery that the Sarasota Herald-Tribune acquired a list of teachers' Social Security numbers from the Department of Education, which has teachers' numbers all over the state. The newspaper said it would not make the numbers public.

But teachers consider it an invasion of privacy and an invitation to identity theft.

"Everybody's very nervous about identify theft now," said Marshall Ogletree of the Florida Education Association, a teacher's union.

The paper has reported it wants to use the numbers to compare teachers' certification levels with their school assignments.

When teachers began blitzing House members with e-mails, one lawmaker offered a compromise: make public only the last four digits of a public employee's Social Security number to private companies if the employee requests it be kept private.

"We've tried to come up with something that solves the problem of revealing Social Security numbers without creating new problems," said Rep. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, the amendment sponsor. "There's just a couple of things you can't explain to the public, and one of them is why we give out your Social Security number."

The House attached Detert's amendment to a Senate bill that exempts disclosure of personal information of federal judges, federal prosecutors, their spouses and children. A final vote on the bill (SB 348) could come today.

Detert said the blanket prohibition on the release of the numbers could cause other problems: Two people with the same name could have their credit histories mixed up.

Lobbyists for data-collection companies say they need access to the numbers.

"Our clients, and the rest of the business community, use those records for employment verification, and to review credit histories all the time," said Patricia O'Connell, who represents companies that collect data. "I think it's going to work out."

[Last modified April 29, 2004, 01:35:43]


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