TN 15 (11-23)

GN 03340.001 Policy on Access to SSA Records Under the Privacy Act

This section describes (1) the policy requirements for individuals' requests for access to records we maintain about them that are contained in agency systems of records under the Privacy Act of 1974, and (2) the ability of certain individuals to access records on another's behalf.

The Privacy Act defines a "record" as any item, collection, or grouping of information about an individual that is maintained by an agency and that contains the individual's name or other identifying particular assigned to the individual. The Privacy Act defines a "system of records" as a group of any records under the control of an agency from which the agency retrieves information by the name of the individual or by a personal identifier, such as a Social Security number (SSN).

A. Policy requirements for requests to access SSA records

Upon request from an individual to gain access to their record or to any information pertaining to himself or herself, which is contained in an agency system of records, we should:

  • Inform the individual whether we have the individual's records or any information pertaining to the individual in the system of records about which the individual inquired;

  • Permit the individual to review the record pertaining to him or her;

  • Permit the individual to be accompanied by another individual, of their choosing, when reviewing the record; and

  • Permit the individual to obtain a copy of all, or a portion, of the record pertaining to him or her in a form comprehensible to the individual at reasonable cost.

NOTE: Some records are exempt from disclosure, such as investigatory and fraud records maintained by the Office of the Inspector General. GN 03340.050 provides more guidance on these records.

B. Scope of access to SSA records

Individuals, also referred to as number holders (NH), may only view and copy their own records, retrievable by their personal identifiers, such as first and last name or SSN. However, individuals may also have access rights to certain information about other persons contained in their records. For additional guidance on this policy, see GN 03340.055.

C. Individuals who have access rights

Only the following individuals have access rights, or are legally authorized to act on behalf of the subject of the record, under the Privacy Act and our regulations:

  • The NH who is the subject of the record (i.e., whose record we retrieve by their personal identifier);

  • A birth or adoptive parent or legal guardian acting on behalf of a minor child, who is the subject of the record; and

  • A legal guardian acting on behalf of an individual, who is the subject of the record, who has been declared to be incompetent due to physical or mental incapacity or age, by a court of competent jurisdiction.

D. Individuals who do not have access rights

Unless the individuals also fall within a category described in subsection C, the following individuals do not have access rights:

  • Representative payees;

  • Appointed representatives;

  • Stepparents;

  • Guardians who are not legal guardians, as defined in GN 00502.300;

  • Individuals with powers of attorney; and

  • Any other third party (individual or entity) that does not meet the requirements in subsection C.

For those without access rights, we process third party requests for information as:

  1. 1. 

    Routine use disclosures (For a definition of routine use disclosures, see GN 03301.002B); or

  2. 2. 

    Disclosures with consent (For more information, see GN 03305.001); or

  3. 3. 

    Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (For more information, see GN 03350.005).

E. NH's right to be accompanied in access

Under the Privacy Act and our regulations, the subject of the record (or NH) may choose to have another individual of their choosing accompany them in accessing their records. This person may be a relative, friend, or any other third party.

Accompanying individuals do not have access rights. However, we should grant them the right to accompany the NH, if:

  1. 1. 

    The NH has chosen him or her to accompany him or her in review or access to the NH's records; and

  2. 2. 

    The NH affirmatively authorizes the third party to be present during the discussion of the NH's record.

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GN 03340.001 - Policy on Access to SSA Records Under the Privacy Act - 11/09/2023
Batch run: 11/09/2023