US Congress proposes national database of food assistance recipients


Although the US rejected a "National Data Center" approach in 1966, eventually instead passing the 1974 Privacy Act, in 2018 the House of Representatives proposed a national database of all 40 million recipients of benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as "food stamps"). The proposed legislation assigned the creation of the database to the Department of Agriculture, with help from private vendors and would collect Social Security numbers, birthdates, and much more with the intention of eliminating fraud by detecting anyone who claims food benefits in more than one state. High turnover rates mean that the database is likely to eventually include as many as 60 million people per year. Studies show that dual participant rates are less than 0.2%. Critics argued that the database would be demeaning; provide a target for hackers and identity fraudsters; promulgate errors to other departments, risking loss of benefits such as Medicaid; and tempt government agencies to create risk profiles that effectively act as "big data blacklisting".

writer: Danielle Citron and David A. Super

Publication: Slate

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