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Information privacy: a quantitative study of citizen awareness, concern and information seeking behavior related to the use of the social security number as a personal identifier

Rhonda Marisa Clossum
Major Professor: 
Suzie Allard
May 2010

Abstract: Information technology has transformed the manner in which personal identifying information is collected, stored and shared in government agencies and private businesses. The social security number has become the de facto identifier for individuals due to its notable qualities: a nine-digit number assigned to one person by the United States government. As individuals are increasingly asked to disclose personal information, the question arises: How does the lack of awareness of social security number laws contribute to the loss of privacy, loss of control of personal information and the threat of identity theft? This study examines awareness levels of social security number laws and policies that affect individuals’ daily lives from the perspective of the information science profession. This study also examines concerns relative to widespread usage of the social security number. A quantitative research method using an online survey was employed using convenience and snowball sampling of adult university students and other community members. Survey results were analyzed by age, gender, educational achievement and student status. Awareness levels were shown to differ significantly by age. There were no differences in overall concern found to exist by any demographic. Survey results showed libraries were consulted for privacy information less often than search engines. Study findings support increasing awareness levels of privacy laws by encouraging use of library resources.