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The Defense Department is on track with a three-phase plan to remove Social Security numbers from military and dependent identification cards, both in the States and overseas, a defense official said.

Beginning at the end of this year, Social Security numbers will no longer be used on military and dependent ID cards that are issued and/or renewed, according to the Defense Department’s Social Security Number Reduction Plan, posted on the Web at www.dmdc.osd.mil/smartcard.

Late last year, the office started removing dependents’ Social Security numbers from cards, though their sponsors’ numbers continued to be used.

The plan, directed by the Office of Management and Budget, is an initiative to safeguard members and their families from identity theft and fraud.

"This is a phased approach, and not all cards will be replaced in 2009," said policy analyst Heidi Boyd. There are more than 11 million Common Access (CAC) and ID cards in circulation.

The process isn’t as easy as simply not printing a number on a card, Boyd said.

"There are a lot of John Smiths out there, but not a lot of John Smiths with the same Social Security number," she said, adding that so much of a person’s business — their pay, benefits and health care — is tracked by their Social Security number.

Likewise, the Social Security number is often the key to breaking the code into someone’s financial, medical and other personal records. What’s more, the number and the name attached to it are often all that’s needed to fraudulently open a line of credit or buy property.

The Pentagon is developing computer software to come up with another identifying system — and a system that would be compatible with other agencies, such as Tricare Management and civilian health care providers who use Social Security numbers to bill patients.

Military agencies and civilian businesses alike are working to find ways to track personnel other than using Social Security numbers.

"We’re trying to do this in a manner that doesn’t break anything," Boyd said.

Changes are taking place throughout the Defense Department.

"It is incumbent on every system, process and form owner to look at the places where they use the SSN and determine if it is required (per DOD policy)," said James McCartney, of the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center. "If the use of the SSN is not required, then each use case owner is responsible for developing a plan to eliminate that use. It is clearly understood that this process will take years."

Also by the end of 2009, all Geneva Conventions cards will have a "truncated" number — the last four digits of a person’s Social Security number. Many countries that host U.S. citizens issue visas and country clearances using Social Security numbers, and defense officials are looking for alternatives, such as basing identifying information on passport numbers instead.

Beginning in 2012, Social Security numbers embedded in barcodes will be removed. Though the numbers aren’t visible, through modern technology, some barcode readers might be able to read the numbers.

Other safeguarding measures include enhancing computer network security, vetting employees before trusting them with sensitive records and encrypting more data.

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