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Lawmakers push for SSD reforms that would impact privacy

Several weeks ago, a shocking story made headlines nationwide. Hundreds of former New York City police officers and firefighters, many of whom had served their city and their nation bravely on 9/11 and during its aftermath, had been accused of committing fraud against the Social Security Administration. This disturbing story has added fuel to a widespread and misinformed perception that a significant percentage of individuals who receive Social Security Disability benefits do not actually deserve them.

In truth, numerous studies conducted over the past few years have confirmed that SSD fraud is actually quite rare. However, many members of the media and many federal lawmakers are concerned that the problem of SSD fraud is truly widespread. Because of this, certain members of Congress are working to institute reforms to the SSD process that they believe would impede the ability of fraudsters to receive benefits.

Specifically, these lawmakers want Social Security Administration employees and judges to be able to review the social media accounts of SSD applicants. The lawmakers recently wrote a lengthy memo to the acting commissioner of Social Security in which they insisted that, “to increase efficiency and reduce the number of erroneous disability determinations, SSA personnel should be allowed to review each applicant’s social media accounts prior to the decision to award benefits. Additionally, we suggest that SSA require that all CDRs incorporate a review of the beneficiary’s social media accounts.”

One of the inspirations for this policy shift came from the ongoing 9/11 responders’ fraud case. It was the social media accounts of many of the applicants accused of fraud that tipped investigators off to the fact that these applicants were not only able-bodied but were far more mentally fit than they had presented themselves to be. While social media may have helped to uncover this alleged fraud, it is important for the SSA to think twice before embracing a policy shift that would significantly impact the privacy of applicants.

Source: The Washington Times, “Lawmakers urge broad snooping powers for Social Security Administration,” Stephen Dinan, April 8, 2014 

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