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Obama and e-Verify: SSA sheds some light

Attempts were made to get Barack Obama’s social-security records through publicly accessible systems that are provided to individuals to check their own information, and to employers to check numbers for employees. Putting aside the fact that these attempts for other purposes were illegal, and accepting for the moment these criminals’ assertions that Barack Obama’s records could not be accessed, one is left with the question of why Barack Obama’s records were not returned by e-Verify, SSNVS or Self Check. It was also reported in the press that Obama was unable to complete his online registration with an ACA healthcare exchange due to identity verification failure.

Birthers explain all this by saying that Obama’s social-security number belongs to someone else, and that is why verification fails. The birthers’ detractors have made a couple of alternative suggestions:

  1. In the wake of the publication of Obama’s social-security number on the Internet, the President applied for a new number and the old number was deactivated.
  2. Presidential records in national databases are treated differently and are subject to tighter access restrictions than other records.

The first suggestion is easily documented as a normal process in response to identity theft, but it doesn’t explain why Obama had problems signing up for health care. Up until now, the second suggestion seemed plausible, but to my knowledge not confirmed. I submitted a FOIA request to the Social Security Administration last May specifically questioning how public records requests were handled for high government officials including the President. The question was asked in the context of understanding government operations. I used as an example a comment by the White House that Obama had a problem signing up for health care online.

I received a somewhat less than fully responsive reply today from the Social Security Administration, but one that contains the nugget of information required to confirm that suggestion 2 is plausible:

This message is in response to your May 22, 2014 inquiry about Social Security Administration database inquiries.

In addition to our rigorous safeguards designed to protect the personal information of all individuals in our databases, we have further security restrictions in place to prevent unauthorized access of Social Security records of select national figures.

We share response information only with our trusted partners who are authorized to use our verification services.

Safeguarding the public’s information has been an important issue ever since the creation of Social Security.  In 1937, the first regulation adopted by the Social Security Board outlined the rules regarding privacy and disclosure of Social Security records.  Through the years, other regulations and the Privacy Act have further defined our responsibilities to ensure the confidentiality of the information we collect and hold.

New FOIA about Obama’s social-security number

Here is the text of a FOIA request I filed online with the Social Security Administration today:

I am requesting relevant sections from SSA regulations and/or policies relating to the following questions:

1) Are SSA database inquiries through consumer-facing systems such as E-Verify, Self Check and ACA health exchange interfaces blocked for high-ranking government officials either routinely or on an as-requested basis.

2) If the answer to the first question is "yes," what response codes and response text would be returned by these systems in response to a blocked inquiry?

3) A 2013 news story stated that President Obama had difficulty signing up for health insurance through the ACA health exchange online because of identity verification. I am interested in SSA regulations and procedures that might be pertinent to understanding this news item as it relates to blocked database entries for government officials.

Unlike some birther FOIA requests, I intentionally designed this one to ask for information that they can legally give me. I filed it because I am interested in deciding between two competing theories of why Obama’s SSN fails E-Verify: The database inquiry is blocked, or Obama changed his number.