GN 03301: Law and Regulations - Disclosure/Confidentiality
TN 3 (11-98)
SSA discloses information when required by Federal law and does not disclose when prohibited by law. When disclosure is neither required nor prohibited by law, we look to the FOIA and PA.
While the FOIA covers all records maintained by a Federal agency, from a practical standpoint most personal information is disclosed under the PA. Therefore, we usually look first to see if the requested information is in a PA system of records. If so, we determine if either the access provision of the PA or one of the 12 exceptions to prohibiting disclosure would apply.
If the request does not meet the criteria of the PA, a determination must still be made as to whether the information must be released under the FOIA. The FOIA requires that the information be released unless one of nine exemptions allows the Agency to withhold the information.
NOTE: The exceptions that permit SSA to disclose information under the PA and the exemptions of the FOIA that permit an agency to withhold information are discussed later in this subchapter.
The following examples show how the laws affect various types of disclosure.
1. Federal Law Requires Disclosure
The Immigration and Nationality Act requires that SSA provide to the Immigration and Naturalization Service the identity and location of aliens.
2. Federal Law Prohibits Disclosure
Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits SSA from disclosing tax return information (e.g., W-2 information filed by employers with IRS through SSA) to third parties outside SSA unless specifically authorized by IRS to do so.
3. Mandatory Disclosure Under the Privacy Act
Generally, SSA must honor an individual's request to see the information contained about himself/herself in SSA's records. (The exceptions are explained in GN 03340.000)
4. Disclosure under an Exception to the Privacy Act
SSA may choose to disclose information to other governmental agencies for purposes of administering programs that are compatible with the purposes for which SSA collected the information (e.g. for administering income-maintenance programs like TANF or health- maintenance programs like Medicaid). Such disclosures are made under the “routine use” provisions.
5. Disclosure Required Under the FOIA
A genealogist requests a copy of a deceased individual's application for a Social Security Number. If we have disclosable proof of death, this information can be disclosed. Deceased individuals have no privacy interests. Therefore, disclosure will not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and the FOIA requires disclosure.
NOTE: If we have reason to believe that the parents of the deceased individual may still be living, we must delete their names from the record. Their names should not be disclosed since disclosure would be of no benefit to the general public.