The legality of emailing a person's Social Security number (SSN) touches on fundamental issues of privacy. The Privacy Act of 1974 provides protections as to email communications on a state, local and federal level.
History of SSN Usage
The use of Social Security numbers began in 1936. The purpose was to identify individuals entitled to receive benefits in connection with the Social Security program.
Today, the widespread use of Social Security numbers to confirm a person's identity occurs in every fabric of life from private employer use on background checks, state and federal entitlement programs, security clearances, college student identification, driving license issuance and many other aspects of daily life.
Each business and government agency emails and stores a person's social security number in the normal course of business. These emails are stored and archived by sender and recipient.
Identity Theft Fraud
The pervasive use of Social Security numbers has led to identity theft issues. The unauthorized use of another person's Social Security number has been used to obtain credit, open bank accounts and access private information, among other unauthorized activities. Proofpoint, a worldwide leader on email security, found in a recent study found that about 30 percent of businesses report their archived email data had been compromised.
Emailing SSN Restrictions
Government agencies which email Social Security numbers without compliance with the Privacy Act trigger privacy right concerns. Many states have similar laws which extend these restrictions to private business.
Private businesses are not restricted under federal law from emailing Social Security numbers obtained from employees.