Most people expect when a police officer pulls them over for a routine traffic stop to be asked to show their driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance. But sometimes an officer may also ask for their Social Security number.
That happened to Lee’s Summit resident William Harvey Forsyth this fall when he was ticketed in Lake Tapawingo.
Forsyth has asked the city to redact his Social Security number from all written and computer records and has concerns about his privacy rights now that the number is part of a public record.
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Mayor Rocky Queen of Lake Tapawingo said traffic tickets are public record, but personal information like a Social Security number is “blackened out” on any ticket released to the public. The number can be viewed only for government use.
The mayor said the reason officers ask for a Social Security number has to do with the process of issuing a warrant, should that become necessary.
“We want to make sure we have the correct information for the warrant,” he said. “There are a lot of John Smiths in the world.”
He said that in most cases it is voluntary whether the person provides a Social Security number. However, if someone cannot show a driver’s license or a Missouri ID card, then the driver must provide the information.
Kansas City police spokesman Tye Grant said tickets have some mandatory fields and some that are not mandatory for the officer to fill out. The Social Security number is not mandatory, and the officer has discretion on whether to request it.
Grant said an officer may ask for the Social Security number as part of the identification process. The more information authorities have, the less likely they will arrest or issue a warrant for the wrong person.
He said Social Security numbers are protected information under the Missouri Sunshine Law. If a member of the public requests a copy of a ticket, the number will be redacted.
The Watchdog cares deeply about privacy but is comforted by the likely answer to this question: “Who’d want to steal his identity?”
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