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New law lets consumers withhold Social Secruity number from businesses

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Companies soon will be banned from requiring customers to provide Social Security account numbers in most circumstances, thanks to a state law that will take effect Wednesday.

And if customers refuse to disclose the information, companies will still be require to provide services to them under the law, which was approved by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this summer. The law will bolster the federal Privacy Act of 1974, which bans companies and individuals from making Social Security numbers available to the public.

The following practices are already prohibited: requiring individuals to provide Social Security numbers over the Internet without a secure connection, printing numbers on mailed envelopes and printing numbers on tags or cards needed by individuals to obtain services or products.

The state law includes exceptions for a number of situations in which Social Security numbers are needed: if the number is required by local, state, federal laws or regulations, for internal verification, financial activities, fraud investigations or involving tax, insurance or employment reasons, or if an individual consents to the disclosure. There’s also an exemption in the law that allows employers to request Social Security numbers, but only after a prospective employee is hired.

Most companies already don’t require Social Security numbers from customers, but the law further prevents the chance of that happening, said Robert L. Lillpopp, director of communications for the Business Council of New York State. The council, which pushed for the bill’s passage, believes it strikes a balance between protecting individuals’ privacy and granting exceptions for businesses that have a legitimate need for the sensitive information.

“You can’t control what goes on the Internet, and we all know that Social Security information can get out,” Mr. Lillpopp said. “It’s possible people can be hacking into businesses information, so this restricts the possibility of it leaking to the public. Businesses need to protect themselves.”

Time Warner Cable now requests customers to provide Social Security numbers, Central New York region spokeswoman Stephanie Salanger said, but the information isn’t required to acquire services. Under the law, the cable provider will still be allowed to use the Social Security numbers for credit checks and other activities.

“Our practices are already aligned with the law in preparation for when that will become effective,” she said. “There are a host of exceptions to the law that will allow us to use information where it’s aligned, and we can still use them for credit checks. For the Social Security number that we do have, we employ the highest security measures possible.”

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