Friday, July 6, 2007

iPhone SSN requirement

Apple and AT&T are demanding customers reveal SSNs to activate their iPhones. That should be the lead of every technology and business article written this week.

It is bad enough that the government might collect data for one (lawful) purpose and then use it for another (nefarious) purpose, but what happens when all data is keyed by a single key, such as a Social Security number (SSN), which itself was never designed for the purpose of personal identification? And what happens when that number is leaked (100 million instances and counting) or stolen (15 million instances and counting)? The opportunities for abuse, both within and outside the system become virtually limitless. (And legislation passed in 2005 has only served to accelerate both the breadth and depth of these opportunities.)


Which is why the iPhone activation mechanism is so troubling, because it compels people in the heat of the moment to do something they should never do if given a moment's thought. Now, I'm sure that it's possible to get a phone activated without giving up one's SSN. I did it with my carrier several years ago by walking the issue up to a VP's desk and posting a $1,000 bond for two years. So it can be done. But should it be so hard? And how are we going to teach our children the importance of protecting personal information when the laws of the state and mainstream corporate behavior make it virtually impossible to do so?

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