McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) today released a new report about modernizing Social Security Numbers (SSN) in light of growing privacy and security concerns over using SSNs as a de facto personal identifier. The report promotes the idea of using “smart cards” to modernize SSNs, both as a way to solve immediate privacy and security needs and to lay a foundation for further innovation and modernization. The change would do away with the traditional paper SSN card, and would instead provide current account holders and new enrollees with a plastic chip-enabled “smart card.” The report explains that “what makes the cards ‘smart’ is that the chip they carry can be ‘read,’ and if the reader connects to a network, the information carried on the smart card can be checked and verified against a remote database.” After examining numerous modernization options, including blockchain, mobile apps using sensors, biometric identifiers, federated identity and public key infrastructure, the report’s authors landed on smart cards as the best path forward. The authors cited three main reasons for their recommendation: extensive experience with smart cards could lessen implementation hiccups and ensure public confidence; smart cards allow for an incremental approach to modernization, which could help minimize pitfalls; and the database infrastructure to support smart cards already exists and the Social Security Administration already has verifications systems in place.
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