Data Mineing
November 13, 2006 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Could I copyright or trademark my full name and social security number and would that be an effective strategy in protecting my privacy and reducing unauthorized use of my personal information?

I was recently listening to an author on the radio talking about our almost non-existant right to privacy. He was talking about whether or not we own our own information. He didn't have an answer but obliquely suggested (as a joke) that we could copyright our own names and SS #'s as a way of reducing unauthorized use of our information.

Could I actually do this? If this were possible could I sue for unauthorized use? Could I warn big corporations that unauthorized use of my information could result in significant consequences?
posted by Xurando to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You want to throw your full name and SS number out into the wild to protect your pivacy? Why don't you toss in your birth date and mother's maiden name to help the process along?
posted by rdr at 12:36 PM on November 13, 2006

You don't own your SS number. The government assigns it to you, but that doesn't make it yours.
posted by pmbuko at 12:38 PM on November 13, 2006

(oh, and great post title.)
posted by pmbuko at 12:38 PM on November 13, 2006

No, that's a rather nonsensical assertion.
posted by prostyle at 12:41 PM on November 13, 2006

No. Short words and phrases are not copyrightable and Trademark protection is only available if the mark is in use in commerce (which your name and SS are not). Even if you could do this, it wouldn't offer you any protection, as the rights protected by trademark (primarily the prevention of various forms of consumer confusion) and copyright (primarily, the right to prevent copying) are not infringed by anything telemarketers or other abusers of your personal data do.

Identity theft is another issue, but there are already plenty of laws against that.
posted by The Bellman at 12:43 PM on November 13, 2006


IAAL. In addition to what rdr and pmbuko say, the purported trademarking and copyrighting of a name and SSN is used by prisoners resist court proceedings against them. They shout that they charge $1,000 per use of their name and will not speak until they're paid.

They then file false lawsuits based on these imaginary claims and get unwitting court clerks to place leins against the property of judges and prosecutors.

NOTHING will make public officials angrier than trying this dodge. You'll be associated with frivolous schemes perpetrated by the worst of the worst.

Don't even think of doing it.
posted by KRS at 12:46 PM on November 13, 2006

Response by poster: KRS, I hadn't thought of the prisoner angle, good point.

But, the bigger question remains, do I own any of my personal info and am I wrong for wanting to actively protect myself from unauthorized use?
posted by Xurando at 12:51 PM on November 13, 2006

I sort of doubt that identity thieves would respect trademark laws if they don't respect identity theft laws. Even if you could trademark yourself and stuff.
posted by Kololo at 12:58 PM on November 13, 2006

"Unauthorized use of a piece of information?" This is not a tenable concept. Who, in their right mind, would submit to an authority that controls such an intangible - and what entity would claim they are such an authority? The numbers and letters associated with one's identity are just that, numbers and letters. They are not your actual identity, they are not who you are. They cannot be owned.
posted by dendrite at 1:12 PM on November 13, 2006

Short words and phrases are not copyrightable

Worse than that, nothing is "copyrightable". Something is either protected by copyright or it isn't. Even if your name was protected by either copyright or trademark law, using your name factually to refer to you would almost certainly not be considered infringement.
posted by cillit bang at 1:15 PM on November 13, 2006


Copyright protects the author's right in creative works. You probably didn't create your name or social security number, so you can't copyright either individually. You might be able to change your name by deed poll or otherwise into something that is a creative work, the way The Artist Formerly Known As Formerly Known as Prince did (he changed it to a squiggle), but even then I suspect that public policy may stop you from restricting its use.

The conjunction of your name and social security number is unlikely to be seen as "creative" or as a "work". Even if it was, copyright only protects the work itself (your name and social security number in conjunction) or works derived from it. If you wrote your name down separately then it would not be protected by copyright.

Trade marks protect marks used in trade or commerce from being used by other people in *their* trade or commerce. I can say Coca Cola as much as I want without infringing their rights, as long as I don't attach it to a product. For instance, I could say "Coca Cola is produced in a factory at this address," and I'd be OK. Similarly, your trademarked name and social security number could be used in a non-infringing way to say "Xurando lives at this address", even if it were to stop someone falsely saying "This is a Xurando post to metafilter!"

So, short answer, no.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:16 PM on November 13, 2006

Wouldn't declaring ownership of your social security number create a public record that a given number is specifically yours? It sounds counterproductive to me.
posted by ardgedee at 2:26 PM on November 13, 2006

The thing that most people don't realize is that copyrighting and trademarking don't solve anything. You can trademark something, but you still have to personally carry out legal action against the offending party. Until you do they can use your name, likeness, whatever it may be. And there's the rub -- legal fees are so high that even if you have a good chance of winning, it might not be worth it.

Of course, if someone is stealing your identity, that's a crime, but in that case you can talk to the police rather than trying to sue for trademark infringement (Even if you could trademark your name/SSN).
posted by Aanidaani at 2:52 PM on November 13, 2006

There is quite a bit of helpful information regarding SSN privacy maintained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Although federal legislation is essentially nonexistent on the issue, some states, particularly California, have taken the lead in specifically limiting the ability of businesses to use and disclose SSNs; see those sites for more details.
posted by padjet1 at 3:59 PM on November 13, 2006

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