Filthy infidel, can you give us your bankcard PIN too?
When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth.

Since 1967, in the American armed forces, the Social Security number is the service number. One's "last four" is commonly used as a shorthand identifier when recording or speaking the entire number is impractical.

There is a world of difference between using your Social Security number as an identifier when attending university, or accessing your bank records on line, for example, and using this number as a master identifier in the armed services.

If you are captured or your body is recovered by the armed forces of an enemy, they automatically receive that magical short sequence of digits that are the keys to your medical records, tax records, investments, credit, mortgage, everything. People who want to hurt you have the most powerful, effective, and thorough means to do so.

Would an organization like Al-Qa'eda hesitate to take advantage of this information? Would they refuse to open lines of credit in a captured serviceman's name? Would they somehow find it below them to interrupt phone service or change the address of the family of a soldier they killed, or pay them a visit?

It's stamped on your service ID card. It's embossed in the aluminum of your dog tags. You stencil it on your duffel bag. It is recorded on every form that has anything to do with you.

All the more reason we must get rid of it.

The military routinely orders its members to memorize a mind-numbing litany of dates, places, names, sequences of alphanumeric characters, and symbols already. So the precedent exists to require an accessee to memorize a randomly assigned 9-digit number, stamp it on his uniforms, grid it into computer-scanned forms, and so forth. Then they can stop collecting and using the Social Security number. They will never ask for it again, and never print it again except for one spot on his pay stub, where he is told how much FICA has been bled from him the last two weeks. And the last-four would suffice there.

It will take months or years to remove one's Social Security number from the thousands of fields where it has been recorded. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, at least. Databases will have to be overhauled to wholesale-replace the number, and possibly to teach that software to accept alphas in addition to numerals as the new service number starts to propagate. All the more reason to get started right now.

There will be a modest cost saving, because all of the forms that collect the Social Security number today require proper storage and disposal. The new service number, because it is connected to the old one at only one point in the payroll system, doesn't carry the old number's potential for abuse.

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