BASIC (09-05)

GN 03312.001 Disclosure Without Consent for Law Enforcement Purposes

Citations:

5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(7)

20 C.F.R. § 401.155

A. Introduction

The Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(7)) permits, but does not require, a Federal agency to disclose personal information from its systems of records to another agency or to an instrumentality of any governmental jurisdiction within or under the control of the United States for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity if the activity is authorized by law, and if the head of the agency or instrumentality has made a written request to the agency which maintains the record specifying the particular portion desired and the law enforcement activity for which the record is sought.

Because disclosures under the Privacy Act’s law enforcement disclosure exception are permissible, not mandatory, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) regulations (20 C.F.R. § 401.155) which implement the Privacy Act are more restrictive than this statute for the following reasons:

  • SSA has a longstanding pledge to the public to maintain the confidentiality of its records.

  • SSA occasionally has records that are useful to law enforcement agencies.

  • Some information that may be useful to law enforcement agencies is restricted by Federal statute from disclosure (e.g., the disclosure of employer names and addresses, or other employment information taken from wage reports filed with SSA by employers generally is restricted from disclosure by section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 6103). (See GN 03320.015.)

  • SSA's resources should not be diverted for non-program purposes, such as searches for information that may or may not be productive to law enforcement agencies.

B. Preview

The principles under which SSA may disclose information for a law enforcement activity are based on the Privacy Act as implemented by SSA regulations, 20 C.F.R. § 401.155. As discussed below, these principles allow disclosure in the following situations:

  • criminal activity involving serious crimes where the individual about whom information is sought has been indicted or convicted of that crime;

  • investigation or prosecution of criminal activity involving fraud or abuse in a SSA program;

  • non-violent criminal activity involving fraud or abuse in a government income-maintenance or health-maintenance program similar to an SSA program;

  • other Federal statutes that require SSA to disclose records; or

  • investigation or prosecutions of persons engaging in activities that jeopardize or could jeopardize the security and safety of members of the public served by SSA, SSA employees or workplace, or that otherwise disrupt the operations of SSA facilities (include State Disability Determination Service facilities). In such instances, information may be disclosed to Federal, State, or local law enforcement agencies, as well as private security contractors.

C. Definitions

1. Agent of a Federal Government Agency

This means a third party entity that a Federal government agency authorizes to act on its behalf when certain SSA conditions are met (see GN 03313.001G.).

2. Disclosure

This means the release or showing of personal information about an individual to a third party, other than to a parent of a minor or to the legal guardian of an individual who is the subject of a judicial finding of incompetency due to age or physical or mental incapacity.

3. Health-Maintenance Program

This means any noncommercial program (such as Medicare and Medicaid) administered by a government agency that is designed to provide an individual with health care (both prevention and treatment) or to subsidize the cost of such care. A commercial insurance, acting as an agent or contractor of the State, may administer such a program for a State or local agency.

4. Income-Maintenance Program

This means any noncommercial program administered by a government agency that is designed to provide an individual with basic necessities of life (such as food, clothing, shelter and utilities), or supplement the individual’s income to permit the purchase of such necessities. Examples of State and local income maintenance programs include subsidized housing, food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, general assistance, title XX services, fuel subsidies, workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, government pension programs, and State supplementation.

NOTE: Loan programs of any type, even if subsidized by a government agency such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development or another government agency, are not income-maintenance programs for SSA disclosure purposes.

5. Minimization

This means disclosing only the minimum information that is relevant and necessary to accomplish the purpose for which information is requested.

6. Non-Tax Return Information

See GN 03320.001D.2. for definition of tax return information.

7. Record/Information

This means any item, collection, or grouping of information about an individual that is maintained by an agency, including, but not limited to, his education, financial transactions, medical history, and criminal or employment history and that contains his name, or the identifying number, symbol, or other identifying particular assigned to the individual, such as a finger or voice print or a photograph.

8. Routine Use

This means the disclosure of a record, without the consent of the individual who is the subject of the record, for a purpose which is compatible with the purpose for which SSA collected the record. Each of SSA’s systems of records has a section titled “Routine uses of records maintained in the system, including categories of users and the purposes of such uses.” SSA’s statements of routine uses can be reviewed by linking to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/bluebook/bluebook.htm. and reviewing the routine use section of each of SSA’s systems of records.

9. System of Records

This means a group of records under the control of SSA from which information is retrieved by the name of the individual or by some identifying number, symbol, or other identifying particular assigned to the individual. A listing of all of SSA’s systems or records can be reviewed at: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/bluebook/bluebook.htm.

10. Tax Return Information

See GN 03320.001D.1. for definition of tax return information.

D. Policy – Minimization

SSA employs a policy of minimization when disclosing information to third parties, i.e., to the extent practicable, disclosing only the minimal information necessary to accomplish the purpose at hand. For example, if you are disclosing information to a third party in order to obtain information to process a claim for benefits, do not disclose the type of claim unless it is necessary to the particular situation.

When a disclosure is necessary, the following standards apply:

  • Only the minimal information that is relevant and necessary should be disclosed.

  • Only a minimum number of contacts should be made. The disclosure to the third party might be nothing more than the individual’s name and Social Security number (SSN), the fact that the individual has a claim before SSA, and, by inference, the nature of the situation. If it is not necessary to disclose the SSN, it should not be disclosed. For example, if there is no indication that the third party from whom SSA is seeking information maintains that information by SSN or otherwise needs to know the SSN, do not disclose it.

  • When deciding how much information to disclose, consider whether the information can be obtained elsewhere without making a disclosure, and what uses the third party might make of any information disclosed by SSA.

E. PROCEDURE

Social Security Field offices (FO) are staffed to assist the local population base. Each FO services a certain number of Zip Codes and assists individuals and third party requesters in that office’s designated service area. While a beneficiary may visit any FO and receive service, a third party requester (public or private) should seek service from the FO servicing the subject individual’s mailing Zip Code.

When handling requests, FOs should determine how the requests impact their resources and normal operations and, as necessary, seek guidance from the regional office, through the regional Privacy Act Coordinator.

The following procedures apply to the handling of law enforcement requests, whether they are handled in a FO or in another SSA component.

NOTE: Whenever disclosure is allowed, only disclosure the minimum information necessary to satisfy the request (see GN 03312.001C.5.)

IF THE REQUEST IS FROM AANDTHEN

Federal law enforcement agency

The Federal law enforcement agency’s request meets the criteria for disclosure,

The receiving FO or other SSA component can disclose the requested information. Any questions concerning the appropriateness of a disclosure should be discussed with the component Privacy Act Coordinator (PAC). As necessary, the component PAC should consult with the Office of Public Disclosure, Office of the General Counsel (see http://sharepoint.ba.ssa.gov/ogc/intranet/default.aspx for contact information).

 

The Federal law enforcement agency’s request does not meet the criteria for disclosure,

The receiving FO or other SSA component should send a denial letter to the requester, explaining why SSA cannot disclose the requested information. Do not include any appeal language as a Federal law enforcement agency (1) does not have appeal rights under the Privacy Act, and (2) cannot make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and therefore cannot appeal under the FOIA.

 

A portion of the information requested by the Federal law enforcement agency may be disclosed,

The receiving FO or other SSA component should provide the information that may be disclosed and explain why the withheld information is not being disclosed. Do not include any appeal language as a Federal law enforcement agency (1) does not have appeal rights under the Privacy Act, and (2) cannot make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and therefore cannot appeal under the FOIA.

State or local law enforcement agency

State or local law enforcement agency’s request meets the criteria for disclosure,

Disclose the requested information.

 

State or local law enforcement agency’s request does not meet the criteria for disclosure, i.e., all or a portion of the requested information must be withheld,

Handle the request as a potential full or partial Freedom of Information Act Denial. See GN 03350.005B.


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