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Social Insecurity Phone Number
August 1, 2006 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday I spent two hours in line at the Social Security Office to get a new card for my son. Considering how long the wait was I can't believe the rules they had for waiting in line. Please help me understand the rational for not allowing people to use their mobile phones.

The SSA guard on duty was also very active about enforcing the "No Cellular Phones" rule. I got told off for sending text messages and playing games on my phone. Other people were threatened with losing their place in line because they were making calls. No one was loud enough to bother others and really, the guard's enforcement of the rule made standing in line all the more miserable. Is this a violation of my rights to free speech? Can the SSA ban cell phones in their offices?

I have to go back to the SSA in a couple of weeks to update my card and before I do I'd like to know all the facts so I can be prepared for the overzealous guard.
posted by DragonBoy to Law & Government (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Most places have that have no-cell-phones-in-line rules do so out of respect for the other people waiting in line. It's far easier to write and enforce an all-out-ban, as opposed to attempting to define "too loud" and only banning those people.
posted by nomisxid at 11:58 AM on August 1, 2006


Is this a violation of my rights to free speech?

no. nobody is restricting the content of your message, which is what "free speech" is about. they are restricting the time and place that you can use a specific device, which is perfectly reasonable - see laws on cell phone use while driving, for example.

also, it's obnoxious to have some knob behind you yammering away on his phone for two hours. you may not think you're bothering anyone, but you probably are.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:07 PM on August 1, 2006


One possibility -- leave the city and go to an SSA office in a small city or town. I used to do that for my Texas drivers' license... instead of going to Dallas and enduring a 1-hour wait, I'd go to the one in Gainesville when I happened to be in the area... there was often no one else being served except me.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:07 PM on August 1, 2006


If they want to ban mobile phones they can, personally I think it's a good idea. I did find this which might help though
posted by killyb at 12:10 PM on August 1, 2006


Is this a violation of my rights to free speech?

No, because it's a "time, place, and manner" restriction, which receives a lower level of constitutional scrutiny than a restriction based on the content of your speech.

You can't use a bullhorn to disseminate your views in a public library, either, and that's not an unconstitutional restriction of speech either. (Not that I'm saying the "no cell phones in the SSA office" is just as reasonable as "no bullhorns in the public library." Just that both are constitutionally permissible "time, place, and manner" restrictions.)

Here's a nice overview of what types of restriction are actually permissible, and what are not, under the First Amendment.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:10 PM on August 1, 2006



As a hopefully helpful perspective from the other side, when I am stuck in a line where people are talking, texting, and playing games, I always feel frustrated and resentful. Even quiet beeps become irritating right away in a quiet settting. And there is something about enclosed spaces or enforced social situations (such as lines) that makes other people's conversations, especially phone conversations, obnoxious even when they are quiet.

I am always relieved when I see a store or office bold enough to enforce this policy; the technology is all so new in proportion to the entitlement most people feel. Unless you are a doctor, I don't think you have a leg to stand on here. There are simply some occasions when you will not be able to communicate with people at whim, and you will not always be the one deciding what these occasions are.

Leave your phone at home or in the car so you won't even be tempted. Instead, bring a book.
posted by hermitosis at 12:13 PM on August 1, 2006


(sorry, i should add that the obnoxious "you" is not you-playing-games-on-your-phone but the hypothetical you who's actually talking on it.)
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:13 PM on August 1, 2006


Why are there guards? Do they have guns?
posted by A189Nut at 12:18 PM on August 1, 2006


I can understand a ban on talking, but texting? That's rediculous. And a ban on game playing doesn't make any sense either. Would they have been totally fine if you pulled out a Nintendo DS or PSP and went to town?
posted by reverendX at 12:21 PM on August 1, 2006


Yes, the guard had a gun.

And a lazy eye.
posted by DragonBoy at 12:35 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


More than likely, they don't want the person to get to the counter and keep talking on the phone while the representative is trying to help them. It's really annoying for everyone else, and a blanket "no-phone" policy prevents it. Otherwise, "I don't see it written anywhere, I can talk on my phone if I want!"

Other possibilities:

Could they be concerend with people using the phones to take pictures of peoples paperwork? Someone could take photos of people's information and fake their identity.

Maybe they don't want people making audio recordings?

Or they want to prevent Russell-Crowe-style-phone-rage?
posted by cathoo at 12:38 PM on August 1, 2006


Unless you are a doctor, I don't think you have a leg to stand on...

So, what if you are a policeman working on a case? What if you are a mom and the school calls asking if your kid is allergic to peanuts? What if you are taking time away from work, and there's a critical matter that needs your attention? I was up for jury duty a few weeks ago, and appreciated the Baltimore District Court for allowing me some moments to use a cell phone during the day.

I understand why you all upthread think that it's your right to be protected from obnoxious people (it is annoying), but I must disagree. You are in line at a public place, and like it or not, there are other people, real people, in line with you. These people have lives too, and they may need to communicate with their people. You're just going to have to deal with it. I also get annoyed when waiting in line without anything else to do, but that's my own problem. Blaming it on someone else is just lame. Suck it up.

DragonBoy: Unfortunately, you're at the mercy of the rules and regs of this particular SSA orifice. I wouldn't bother to question their Kafkaesque processes or procedures.
posted by joecacti at 12:44 PM on August 1, 2006


Yes, the guard had a gun.

And a badge. Hence you saw the unfortunate and common result of giving small power to small people. No doubt the rule was originally implemented for courtesy's sake; but now it has become The Ruleā„¢, and any violation is perceived as a direct threat to the authority of the punk kid who has mistaken standing inside a Social Security office for being deployed to a forward area alongside SEAL Team Six.

This is one of life's minor injustices that you can't solve. Sorry. Bring a book and leave the phone outside. If you want some solace, glance over at Captain Amerika and thank the Lord for not making you like him.
posted by cribcage at 12:50 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


Could they be concerend with people using the phones to take pictures of peoples paperwork? Someone could take photos of people's information and fake their identity.

This is an excellent point. As far as I know, you can't take a photo with a PSP and you certainly can't with a book. Texting or playing a game on a phone doesn't look that much different from trying to discreetly take a photo. A zero-tolerance cellphone policy would be the only way to be sure to enforce a "no photos" policy, and has the added benefit of keeping people from yammering on their phone in line as well. Do they have a "no photos" policy as well? I imagine they wouldn't allow photos to be taken in the social security office. But I don't know.

Bring non-electronic reading material or a flesh and blood friend to yammer with (thus stickin' it to the man).
posted by lampoil at 12:52 PM on August 1, 2006


No, it does not violate any of your rights. Yes, they can ban the use of cellphones within their building.

No one was loud enough to bother others

I just bet you that they were.

but texting? That's rediculous

Hardly. You still have to put up with incessant bleeps and bloops and crappy-ass ringtones (or you've-got-a-text tones).

So, what if you are a policeman working on a case?

You should choose a different day to go to the social security office, or make sure that someone else can deal with any concerns while you're out of contact for a morning.

Or if it's so goddam important you can step outside to take the call and lose your place.

What if you are a mom and the school calls asking if your kid is allergic to peanuts?

If your kid is in distress and they can't reach you, they'll give appropriate medical care.

What if you are taking time away from work, and there's a critical matter that needs your attention?

Then you should choose a different day to deal with social security, or make sure that other people can competently deal with that situation while you're away. Or, if it's so goddam important, step outside to take the call and lose your place in line. If it's not important enough to lose your place in line for, it's really not very important at all.

rolypolyman: there's also an office in Denton that's normally not crowded. It's just off of loop-288.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:54 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


Man, I dislike cell phones as much as the next guy, but that is fucked up. Was the SSA pig a government agent or a rent-a-pig?
posted by keswick at 12:57 PM on August 1, 2006


Hardly. You still have to put up with incessant bleeps and bloops and crappy-ass ringtones (or you've-got-a-text tones).

Last time I checked, putting most phones on vibrate turns off the beeping for text messages too.
posted by reverendX at 12:58 PM on August 1, 2006


The SS office here has a "take a number" system for helping each person there. If you know it's going to be awhile you can leave the office or building and do your thing elsewhere where there aren't any rules. I assume at the very minimum you can go to the bathroom and make your calls there.
posted by JJ86 at 1:05 PM on August 1, 2006


I understand why you all upthread think that it's your right to be protected from obnoxious people (it is annoying),

Read more carefully. Although several people in this thread have indicated that they appreciate the no-cell-phones rule, no one here has made the claim that they have a right to be protected from obnoxious people at the SSA office. Everyone here seems to recognize that the SSA office can have a no-cell-phone rule, or not, at its discretion. Some prefer an office with that rule, some prefer an office without one, but no one here has claimed that they could force an office without such a rule to adopt one, which is what such a "right" would entail.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:13 PM on August 1, 2006


I've been in a couple of Social Security offices. They are universally dreary, and ignore any concept of ease of use. Workers end up shouting at hearing impaired people because of the heavy plexiglass barriers between the public and the staff, so there's no privacy, the line moves so slowly, and just as you get near a worker, they go to lunch. The staff seems beaten down and resentful, probably with good reason.

If you can make it more bearable with a game, or texting, good for you. Talking on the phone, in line, yeccchhh, but it's pretty common. The guard's just being a jerk. Not much you can do about it, except maybe write a letter.
posted by theora55 at 1:18 PM on August 1, 2006


I just returned from and IRS office in a federal building in SoCal, and they were blocking all the cellphone signals inside the building.
posted by gallois at 1:33 PM on August 1, 2006


Lampoil:
Bring non-electronic reading material or a flesh and blood friend to yammer with (thus stickin' it to the man).

At 4pm when the office doors closes they made everyone not needing service from the SSA wait outside. Foiled again!

My phone was on vibrate. It always is unless I've turned it off. I don't see the point of having a ring tone as my phone is generally always in my pocket.

After reading about Theora55's SSA office I think I shouldn't complain. The staff at my office seemed friendly and there were no heavy plexiglass barriers. The wallpaper was peeled up along the line at nearly every seam and I suspect that having the ability to talk on a phone would make the wall paper last longer.

JJ86: They had a take a number system at that office too, but you were still required to wait in line. I asked if I could leave and come back and was told no. I asked if I could take a seat and wait on my number and again I was told no. Perhaps the guard was just being a power mad pain in the ass but it seemed to me that the SSA put a lot of effort into making the wait as miserable as possible.
posted by DragonBoy at 1:55 PM on August 1, 2006


I used to work for Social Security Australia (it changed it's name about 15 years ago so not only is my experience foreign, but it also out of date).

Here's the thing, it was scary being on the counter. Poor people without options sometimes get agressive. (Ha, you think this is going to be pro-SS). So it's possible the no use of mobile phones is to prevent flash crowds or whatever they call it.

On the other hand, and I think this more likely, SS staff suck. Nobody grows up thinking "I wanna work for SS". It was the only job they could get at the time, and they've risen through the ranks and nobody else wants them. And damn it, it's their (tax) money that's going out to these deadbeats who can't be bothered to work, so they're going to damn well put them through hoops. Oh and they usually have legislation backing them up, the letter, not the spirit.

Hence the hoop to jump through in the line.

-just an opinion.
posted by b33j at 2:00 PM on August 1, 2006


As a hopefully helpful perspective from the other side, when I am stuck in a line where people are talking, texting, and playing games, I always feel frustrated and resentful.

With all due respect, boundaries are great things.

It is possible, in general, to silence everything a cellphone can do except an actual voice call, and anything that doesn't make any noise ought not to be against the rules.
posted by baylink at 2:02 PM on August 1, 2006


So, what if you are a policeman working on a case? What if you are a mom and the school calls asking if your kid is allergic to peanuts? What if you are taking time away from work, and there's a critical matter that needs your attention?

If it's important enough, then you'll lose your place in line. Easy.

DragonBoy: Unfortunately, you're at the mercy of the rules and regs of this particular SSA orifice. I wouldn't bother to question their Kafkaesque processes or procedures.

Ah yes, Kafka's lesser known novels were about the HORRORS of being disconnected from trivialities! About the great suffering caused by actually conversing with strangers!

They had a take a number system at that office too, but you were still required to wait in line.

That's pretty lame, actually. I might complain about that.
posted by muddgirl at 2:16 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


I went to get a new SS card in North Carolina about five years ago (not long after 9/11, because I had lost my SS card in high school and had lived without it for 15 years but was applying for jobs and got sick of being lectured by temp agency recruiters about how not having my physical SS card made me look like a terrorist). We weren't allowed to bring BAGS inside. As in I had to leave my pocketbook in the car and hold all the documentation required to prove my existence in my hot little hand. I had a PDA with games on it and I wasn't allowed to bring that in either.
posted by jennyb at 2:43 PM on August 1, 2006


If you've ever worked in a service occupation, you wouldn't thumb your nose at the no cellphones rule. Why is it so damn important? I dink with my phone all the time, but I really don't think it'd be a huge problem emotionally (this is an emotional issue, after all) if I had to put it away for a while.

But no, it's 'free speech' and 'pigs' that are 'oppressing' you. some of your senses of entitlement are disgusting. Wah wah wah. Bring a book; you'd be surprised at how long you can survive without hitting a key on your cellphone.
posted by cellphone at 2:45 PM on August 1, 2006


I once went to court with a friend who was requesting a restraining order. At the door, I was asked to return to my car and deposit my cellphone - no vibrate, no silent, no off - back in the car.

I went to the DMV to get my license renewed. No phone use allowed. It was okay to have it off and put away.

So, different levels of prohibition, but I think the "no cellphone use in government buildings" policy might be pretty standard. There are things you could do that would be illegal - photos, as mentioned above, cheating on a written driver's test, etc.

You also can't use your cell phone in strip clubs, but that's another debate entirely.
posted by ArsncHeart at 3:55 PM on August 1, 2006


everyone on this thread who's going on and on about 'boundaries' and 'politeness' and 'entitlement' issues is completely missing the point. I hate cell phones as much as the next person but so far only a couple people have actually hit on the gist of the matter.

This. Is. A. Security. Issue.

Period.

it has to do with protecting people from ID theft. I currently work in a government office and this is the stance that is taken: ZERO tolerance for any cell phone or pda device use in or around records management areas.

I've also worked for Lockheed Martin (where unauthourised cell phones and PDAs are both jammed and banned in/near any of their office complexes) and in medical records facilities (where cell phones must be powered off and put away when working around records).

stop and think for a minute about the risk of having a small camera device around your sensitive legal and personal documentation.

Granted, there's also little logic to being forced to stand around with your documents in hand and get shouted at. But the risk of someone capturing your SSN# or ID information simply by overhearing it or glimpsing the paperwork, versus taking a snapshot of it, is, I think you'll agree, arguably smaller.

the simple fact is that in this day and age, ID theft is a very real risk in crowded situations like this where cell phone use is a factor. Camera technology has advanced to the point where a surreptitious criminal can snap a pic of all your records whilst looking like they're sending a text message.

and yes, the fact that you had to stand in line even after taking a number, makes them absolute bureaucratic tin-horn dictatorial assholes, and for that I apologise, and recommend you definitely try a smaller, suburban branch office where you won't have to deal with this angst. but the ID theft angle is extremely real. and no, I am not wearing a tinfoil hat.

I suggest you ask your friendly local DMV clerk next time you want the answer to this.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:28 PM on August 1, 2006


joecacti: "So, what if you are a policeman working on a case? What if you are a mom and the school calls asking if your kid is allergic to peanuts? What if you are taking time away from work, and there's a critical matter that needs your attention?"

It's been said, but it's so worth repeating...

1) If the policeman is on a case, why is he waiting in line at the SS office? Either he can bypass the line in his official duty, or he's ignoring his official duty.

2) If you didn't inform the school of your child's peanut allergies, shame on you. If the child doesn't know about his own allergies enough to tell them himself, shame on you. This leaves the only sane possibility: you didn't tell the school, and your child can't tell them because he's having an allergic reaction. If that's the case, I'm sure you'll be leaving the line anyway.

3) If a critical matter at work needs your attention, you're going to have to lose your place in line anyway.
posted by CrayDrygu at 4:47 PM on August 1, 2006


My SSA office had no problem with me playing a game on my cellphone, but a. it was on silent and b. it was a take-a-number place, and I was sitting down in a chair, nowhere near the counters. Since yours does, I'll echo what others said: take a magazine, book, PSP, or Nintendo DS.

One day at the doctor's office, I left my cell phone in the car. My mom really needed to reach me, so get this: She called the office instead! The receptionist said, "your mom said you must not have had your cell phone on." I said, "I left it in the car... I don't like to be rude to others." She said that was commendable... she can't stand it when people are in the waiting room, talking away on their phones. Not just that, but sometimes people get way too personal in their conversations, and I don't want to hear about your hemorrhoids, thanks.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:38 PM on August 1, 2006


Leave your phone at home or in the car so you won't even be tempted. Instead, bring a book.

I read things on my cell phone -- sometimes books, often Bloglines subscriptions, always e-mail. And my phone is *always* set to vibrate - no ringing, no key-tones, no sounds - when I am in public.

I would have had a VERY hard time not causing a scene if I had been in that situation -- reading from my tiny screen -- and being told that I can't do it.
posted by davidmsc at 7:50 PM on August 1, 2006


I was called for jury duty once and was in the first phase with all the candidates (~300) in one big room to fill out paperwork, get assigned to pools, etc. The judge ordered everyone to turn off their cell phones, then asked if anyone didn't understand what she had just said. She went on to say that she wasn't asking if their phones were off, she was telling them to check their phones and make sure they were off. A few minutes later, of course, someone's phone rang. The woman wouldn't answer it, so it kept ringing until the bailiffs tracked it down. The judge charged her with contempt of court and a bailiff walked her out of the room. I don't know what happened to her after that, but there was sure a lot of interest in cell phones for a few minutes.
posted by forrest at 8:00 PM on August 1, 2006


But no, it's 'free speech' and 'pigs' that are 'oppressing' you. some of your senses of entitlement are disgusting. Wah wah wah. Bring a book; you'd be surprised at how long you can survive without hitting a key on your cellphone.

posted by cellphone at 10:45 PM GMT on August 1 [+fave] [!]

Heh.

Also, I agree that it's a security issue, nothing more.

However, I rarely carry a book with me in the hopes that I have to wait in a queue for 2 hours. But I do carry my mobile phone that has solitaire on it.

I love how most people are talking like it was rude to try to discreetly use your phone when you've been waiting for 2 hours and you're not allowed to sit down and didn't happen to have the ESP-like foresight to bring in a book. There's only so many times you can read the posters on the walls. I can zone out with the best of them, but two hours is pushing it. You must have the patience of saints.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:40 AM on August 2, 2006


I always have a book. Because you never know.
posted by dame at 7:35 AM on August 2, 2006


Note to everyone: If you are going to a SS office, expect to spend 1-2 hours waiting quietly. Expect to lose your number or your place in line if you have to leave the waiting area for any reason, with the sole exception of going to the bathroom, in which case you will have to check in with the armed guard first, and get the pass for the bathroom. Expect to not be allowed to use electronics, and expect to not be allowed any food or beverage at all in the room.

It is horrible, and for some tasks, it is unavoidable.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:44 AM on August 2, 2006


Why get busted for texting? He still had a cell phone out. If he doesn't get dinged for it, the next person that does get dinged will point and say "Why didn't HE get busted for having a cell out?"

the guy was probably just trying to be fair and keep it level. Besides, for all he knew, you were looking for a contact to dial.

Just a theory.
posted by drstein at 1:13 PM on August 2, 2006


[a few comments removed, feel fre to take cell phone liberation theology discussions to metatalk or email]
posted by jessamyn at 5:03 AM on August 3, 2006


Seriously, do what rolypolyman and others have suggested: find a smaller SSA.

I recently had to take the written driver's test here in Minneapolis. I went to one location where the line was at least 100 people long. So I went to another location. 15 people, tops. Totally worth the extra driving time.
posted by graventy at 3:05 PM on August 6, 2006


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