20 CFR 401.3
Where wage and benefit data related to particular individuals, received by the Social Security Administration (DHEW)in the course of its administration of titles II and XVIII of the Social Security Act, is requested by a private organization affiliated with a community action program established under title II of the Economic Opportunity Act to provide legal services to indigent persons, held disclosure of such data without the written consent of the particular person is not permissible.
The X Association, a private nonprofit organization, is part of a community action program established under the Economic Opportunity Act (32 U.S.C. 2701, et seq.). In section 211-1(b) of that legislation (42 U.S.C. 2792(b), enacted by section 215 of P.L. 89-794, November 8, 1966) provision is made for programs for legal advice and legal representation to persons who are unable to afford the services of a private attorney, together with legal research and information as appropriate to mobilize the assistance of lawyers or legal institutions, or combinations thereof, to further the cause of justice among persons living in poverty. The Association has requested the Social Security Administration of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to furnish it certain benefit and wage information regarding a group of indigent individuals, which would help the Association to determine their eligibility for legal services under the Office of Economic Opportunity program.
Whether or not the Administration can properly disclose wage and benefit information acquired in the course of administering the retirement, survivors, disability and health insurance provisions of titles II and XVIII of the Social Security Act, is governed by section 1106 of the Act (42 U.S.C. 1306) and Regulations No. 1 of the Social Security Administration (20 CFR 401.1, et seq.) promulgated thereunder.
Section 1106(a) of the Social Security Act, in pertinent part, provides:
No disclosure. . .of any file, record, report, or other paper, or any information, obtained at any time by the Secretary or by any officer or employee of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the course of discharging the duties of the Secretary under this Act, and no disclosure of any such file, record, report, or other paper, or information, obtained at any time by any person from the Secretary or from any officer or employee of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, shall be made except as the Secretary may by regulations prescribe.
Section 401.3 of Social Security Regulations No. 1 (20 CFR 401.3) authorizes the disclosure of such information from social security files in certain enumerated cases and for certain purposes. Generally, disclosure of personal information about wage earners or claimants for social security benefits is permitted only for social security or closely related purposes. Disclosure of personal information for other purposes must, with some exceptions not here involved, be authorized by the individual concerned.
As the basis for its request for benefit and wage information, the X Association has cited section 611 of the Economic Opportunity Act, 42 U.S.C. 2961, which authorizes the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity to call upon other Federal agencies engaged in administering related programs for full cooperation. Under that section, the Director of OEO may call upon other Federal agencies to supply statistical data, program reports, and other materials. The request by the X Association does not come within this provision. In any event, the provision of Regulation No. 1 authorizing the release of statistical data expressly disclaims release of information ". . .relating to any particular person . . ." which appears to be the type of information sought here:
Statistical data or other similar information not relating to any particular person which may be compiled from records regularly maintained by the Department may be disclosed when efficient administration permits. Information contained in or compiled from reports submitted by employers only (other than information relating to any identified or identifiable person except such employers, and other than information relating to any identified or identifiable self-employed individual) may be disclosed, when efficient administration permits, to any other agency of the Federal Government for use in its statistical and planning work only. (See CFR 401.3(k).)
It is therefore held that the Social Security Administration is prohibited by law and regulation from disclosing to the X Association wage or benefit data related to particular individuals without their written consent.
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