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The feds and I go fishin’

Letter from Roger Fenton

Modern Life – October 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine


The other day I set out on a simple task: Obtain a Colorado state fishing license. In my little town, the grocery store performs that public service. The clerk ran my driver’s license, first issued to me in 1960, through a machine, and I reached for my wallet to fork over $26. But then she turned to me and asked, “What’s your Social Security Number?” Being the nice guy that I am, plus the fact that in a small town we all know each other, I easily deflected my first impulse to reply “None of your damn business.” Instead, I suggested entering my driver’s license number in its place. I really did not think we needed to involve the Federal Government in my effort to hook a brookie. No good. No SSN, no license.

I am old enough to remember when it was written on the back of Social Security cards that they were not to be used for purposes of identification. I have been advised by numerous authorities to not give out my Social Security Number unnecessarily. My driver’s license is my state ID … or so I have been told. Besides, my SSN was assigned to me for the purpose of taxation only. I have no quarrel with the Colorado Department of Revenue or the IRS having it, but fishing is between me and a trout. A Colorado trout. Why does the Colorado Division of Wildlife need my Federal SSN to license me to bag a brown?

This is not a rhetorical question. It has an answer. It seems that in order to legally drown a worm in the creek, the Feds require me to prove I don’t owe child support somewhere. That’s right, it’s a Federally mandated Colorado law.

The Denver Post in an editorial extolling the virtues of this program, “Child-support increase is upside of passport rules,” Aug. 16, noted that “In addition to denying a passport, Colorado law allows for the suspension or denial of a driver’s license, a professional license. or a recreational license of parents who owe back child support.” So, in order to hunt this fall, Colorado citizens and anybody else who wants a Colorado hunting license has to prove that they are not deadbeat parents, and to do that they will reveal their SSN. The same goes if you want to do anything else that requires state licensing, or international travel (passport).

Justin Yurek, president of ID Watchdog, interviewed in the business section of the August 5th Denver Post, testified before a congressional subcommittee that “The main holy grail of stealing people’s identity is the Social Security number. Your Social Security number is a bank-account number. Everybody’s co-opted it. It was never intended for that.” I couldn’t agree more; so why is everybody asking me for it?

Here are some quotes from (the Social Security web site):

“You should be careful about sharing your number with anyone who asks for it (even when you are provided with a benefit or service).” Did all you guys out there trolling for lunkers willingly reveal your SSN to, most likely, a total stranger behind a counter at a sporting goods store? Well, if you have a fishing or hunting license, DOW has your SSN, and maybe the clerk or his friend has it too.

“… use of the SSN as a general identifier has grown to the point where it is the most commonly used and convenient identifier for all types of record-keeping systems in the United States.” So what’s a guy to do?

“… utility companies and other services ask for a Social Security number, but do not need it; they can do a credit check or identify the person in their records by alternative means.” As can the DOW.

“… the Privacy Act requires the agency to inform the person of the following: the statutory or other authority for requesting the information … what uses will be made of the information; and the consequences, if any, of failure to provide the information.” No such statutory or other authority is provided on DOW’s web site, in the DOW fishing guide, or at the place where I tried to purchase my license. If that statutory authority is not given, what is my obligation to provide my SSN? Can they, right then, deprive me of a license?

All this is happening because of America’s understandable caution toward a “Big Brother” Federal Government. Any suggestion of a Federally issued identification card or number has traditionally been resisted by the entire spectrum of political ideology. So the Federal Government sidesteps issuing you a Federal ID by turning your SSN into a de facto National Identification Number. In light of growing identity theft, issues surrounding illegal immigration, and the diffusion of personal information through advanced communication technology, perhaps we should revisit what requires the surrender of our SSNs.

By-the-way, you can buy a gun without surrendering your SSN (ATF Form 4473 revised May 2007), but not a Colorado fishing license.

Roger Fenton