For now, SSA will keep issuing PEBES off line

The Social Security Administration has no immediate plans to make Personal Earnings and
Benefit Estimate Statements available online again.


“I think we’re going to keep PEBES the way it is,” said Kathy Adams,
SSA’s assistant deputy commissioner for systems, in a speech this month at the GCN
Forum luncheon in Washington.


As late as July, SSA officials had said they wanted to make it possible for citizens to
get PEBES through the Web. And in recent weeks, General Services Administration officials
have said SSA officials came to them asking about using GSA’s planned digital
certificate service as a way to authenticate users who want to access the data online.


The agency will continue to explore options for providing the service online again, SSA
spokeswoman Carolyn Cheezum said, noting that the agency continues to test and evaluate
the PEBES system. But there is no immediate project to do so, she said.


Now, a citizen can request a PEBES by sending e-mail when linked to the agency’s
Web site at http://www.ssa.gov or making a written
request via postal mail. The agency then returns the PEBES, a year-by-year breakdown of
earnings history and estimates of current and future Social Security benefits, through
postal mail.


During a monthlong pilot two years ago, people tapped into PEBES data through
SSA’s Web site. But the agency pulled the plug on the project after privacy advocates
argued that the site lacked security.


“PEBES was a case study in the issue of expanding access vs. individual
privacy,” Adams said.


During the month the PEBES online program was available, SSA received 71,000 requests
via the Internet and issued 47,000 PEBES, Cheezum said.


To gain access, users of the PEBES online program had to enter their names, Social
Security numbers, dates and locations of birth, and their mother’s maiden names. But
privacy advocates said the five factors did not ensure protection from illegal access.


“There never, ever was any kind of abuse, alleged or proven, with the PEBES,”
Adams said.


She said she believes the PEBES controversy centered on privacy, specifically
authentication. Yet, SSA requires the same PEBES authentication factors when citizens
request information via the agency’s 800 telephone line or through the postal mail,
she said.


“The interesting thing is that as long as that statement is going back in the U.S.
mail, everyone was comfortable” with the process, she said. But the minute you send
it back over a computer in real time the concern is that there is too much chance for
abuse, she said.


Adams said SSA learned three lessons from the PEBES online pilot:

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