No Social Security number? No passport. Why?

When we reported last week on the passport provisions in the new “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act”, we focused on the details of the rules for denial or revocation of US passports of citizens alleged to owe more than $50,000 in Federal taxes.

We should, perhaps, have put more emphasis on the other new basis we mentioned for the denial of a passport application: failure to provide a valid Social Security account number on the passport application form. This could affect more people than the linkage of passports to taxes.

While the shorthand title on our blog post referred to people who “don’t have” a Social Security number, the same fate could befall anyone who chooses not to disclose their Social Security number. The new law would authorize but not require the Secretary of State — at her standardless “discretion” — to deny any passport application that doesn’t contain a valid Social Security number.

There are probably more US citizens who don’t have a Social Security number than who owe more than $50,000 in taxes. And there are good reasons for even those citizens who do have a Social Security number not to want to disclose it to the State Department and to all the other government agencies (including the DHS) with which it shares passport data.

Federal law and IRS regulations already imposed a $500 civil penalty for applying for a passport without providing a Social Security number. This was a high price to pay for freedom from travel dataveillance based on Social Security number. But it wasn’t always enforced (more “discretion”), and it was not a basis for denial of a passport. Now it is.

Why would someone who has a Social security number not want to give it to the State Department? The answer is obvious once you reverse the question: Why does the State Department want to record the Social Security number of each passport holder? And how do the State Department, and the other agencies with which it shares this data, plan to use it?

There’s a separate legal requirement and required form, which includes the passport number, for reporting any international transportation of $10,000 or more in cash or “monetary instruments”, either as accompanied baggage or in an unaccompanied shipment. So the State Department doesn’t need Social Security numbers in passport files to know whether large sums of money are being taken in or out of the country by the holder of a particular passport.

The new law doesn’t just require that you show that you have a valid Social Security number before you can receive or renew your passport. You must provide your Social Security number to the State Department, so that it can be entered into the passport records database.

Nor is your Social Security number used only to check with the IRS whether you are suspected of owing back taxes. The principal routine users of this data outside the State Department are the DHS, “for border patrol, screening, and security purposes.” Screening is, of course, a euphemism for algorithmic profiling and profile-based search and control.

In other words, the real point of requiring each US passport applicant to supply their Social Security number is to enable all the financial records linked to that Social Security number to be combined with the travel records linked to the passport number in the DHS “Automated Targeting System” and included in the inputs to the pre-crime “black box” that decides whether to give airlines and other common carriers permission to transport each US citizen, and how intrusively to search and/or interrogate each US citizen who is allowed to travel.

DHS Automated Targeting System records include many identifiers and pointers that can be used to link them to other databases: timestamped IP addresses, cellphone numbers, passport numbers, credit card numbers, names of emergency contacts and traveling companions, etc. But they haven’t yet contained Social Security numbers, so far as we know. Now they will, or will be linked to a related database that does.

Government records indexed by Social Security number aren’t just tax records, but records of your worldwide assets and financial affairs. Records identified by Social Security Number (but not passport number, so they would otherwise be at least somewhat more difficult for DHS to use for this profiling), include not only US bank accounts but also foreign bank accounts (reported by Social Security number on the required annual FBAR form) and other foreign “financial assets” (a partially overlapping category) required to be reported each year on IRS Form 8938.

None of this has anything to do with citizenship, which should be the sole criterion of entitlement (not merely “eligibility” at the government’s “discretion”) to a US passport.

5 Responses to “No Social Security number? No passport. Why?”

  1. A Says:

    Very interesting site. Good article.

    I’m one of the minority who has a US passport but no SSN.

    Will be interesting to see how things play out for everyone involved.

    Will be back to check on progress.

    A

  2. Someone Says:

    Indeed. As someone who was born in the USA but have lived outside it almost my entire life (with non citizen parents) I actually tried several times to get a SSN and was denied or my applications just disappeared into a black hole.

    Now with the financial reporting requirements I’m screwed. I havent filed forms, because I don’t have a ssn. I can’t file taxes, so I can’t even renouce my citizenship without drawing attention to myself for fines and possible prosecution.

    Thanks USA. Once my current passport lapses guess I’ll have to travel illegally to the USA on my other passports or even better avoid the place entirely.

  3. Bob Says:

    @someone
    Better just to avoid the place entirely….
    Its become apolice state!

  4. Jermaine Says:

    Not sure if the page you’re linking to is describing the new law you’re talking about. It’s not linked to anything directly talking about not getting a passport for failing to disclose a SSN. My wife and I renewed passports without a SSN and had no delays or fines.

  5. Kyle Says:

    Any one esp. any adult, recently and successfully applied or renewed their passport w/o disclosing their SSN ? Like to know what you did – do I need to send the IRS a statement or use their form 13997 here? https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f13997.pdf

    I got a letter demanding SSN on my renewal (I wrote “EXEMPT” on the SSN since I am US-based, no foreign residence address either and outside the scope and purpose of 6903E) and did not under any of the restriction and not delinquent taxpayer, etc which allows the SoS to deny the renewal.

    Or does the recent 2015 FAST act allows CFR ยง51.60 (f) this denial?

    http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=1&SID=5b219ccb7339b43fb5556ea62f774bc0&ty=HTML&h=L&mc=true&r=SECTION&n=se22.1.51_160

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