Centre for Internet & Society

This blog calls out the differences between the Aadhaar Number and the Social Security Number

In response to news items that reported the Government of India running pilot projects to enroll children at the time of birth for Aadhaar numbers - an idea that government officials in the news items claimed was along the lines of the social security number - this note seeks to point out the ways in which the Aadhaar number and the social security number are different.[1]


SSN is governed by Federal legislation: The issuance, collection, and use of the SSN is governed by a number of Federal and State legislation with the most pertinent being the Social Security Act 1935[2] - which provides legal backing for the number, and the Privacy Act 1974 which regulates the collection, access, and sharing of the SSN by Federal Executive agencies.[3]

Aadhaar was constituted under the Planning Commission: The UIDAI was constituted as an attached office under the Planning Commission in 2009.[4] A Unique Identification Authority Bill has been drafted, but has not been enacted.[5] Though portions of the Information Technology Act 2008 apply to the UID scheme, section 43A and associated Rules (India's data protection standards) do not clearly apply to the UIDAI as the provision has jurisdiction only over body corporate.


SSN was created as a number record keeping scheme for government services: The Social Security Act provides for the creation of a record keeping scheme - the SSN. Originally, the SSN was used as a means to track an individuals earnings in the Social Security system.[6] In 1943 via an executive order, the number was adopted across Federal agencies. Eventually the number has evolved from being a record keeping scheme into a means of identity. In 1977 it was clarified by the Carter administration that the number could act as a means to validate the status of an individual (for example if he or she could legally work in the country) but that it was not to serve as a national identity document.[7] Today the SSN serves as a number for tracking individuals in the social security system and as one (among other) form of identification for different services and businesses. Alone, the SSN card does not serve proof of identity, citizenship, and it cannot be used to transact with and does not have the ability to store information. [8]

Aadhaar was created as a biometric based authenticator and a single unique proof of identity: The Aadhaar number was established as a single proof of identity and address for any resident in India that can be used to authenticate the identity of an individual in transactions with organizations that have adopted the number. The scheme as been promoted as a tool for reducing fraud in the public distribution system and enabling the government to better deliver public benefits.[9]


SSN is for citizens and non-citizens authorized to work: The social security number is primarily for citizens of the United States of America. In certain cases, non citizens who have been authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to work in the US may obtain a Social Security number.[10]

Aadhaar is for residents: The aadhaar number is available to any resident of India.[11]

Storage, Access, and Disclosure

SSN and applications are stored in the Numident: The numident is a centralized database containing the individuals original SNN and application and any re-application for the same. All information stored in the Numident is protected under the Privacy Act. Individuals may request records of their own personal information stored in the Numident. With the exception of the Department of Homeland Security and U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, third parties may only request access to Numident records with the consent of the concerned individual.[12] Federal agencies and private entities that collect the SSN for a specific service store the number at the organizational level. The Privacy Act and various state level legislation regulates the disclosure, access, and sharing of the SSN number collected by agencies and organizations.

Aadhaar and data generated at multiple sources is stored in the CIDR and processed in the data warehouse: According to the report "Analytics, Empowering Operations", "At UIDAI, data generated at multiple sources would typically come to the CIDR (Central ID Repository), UIDAIs Data centre, through an online mechanism. There could be certain exceptional sources, like Contact centre or Resident consumer surveys, that will not feed into the Data center directly. Data is then processed in the Data Warehouse using Business Intelligence tools and converted into forms that can be accessed and shared easily." Examples of data that is stored in the CIDR include enrollments, letter delivery, authentication, processing, resident survey, training, and data from contact centres.[13] It is unclear if organizations that authenticate individuals via the Adhaar number store the number at the organizational level. Biometrics are listed as a form of sensitive personal information in the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) 2011, thus if any body corporate collects biometrics with the Aadhaar number - the storage, access, and disclosure of this information would be protected as per the Rules, but the Aadhaar number is not explicitly protected. [14]

Use by public and private entities

Public and private entities can request SSN: Public and private entities can request the SSN to track individuals in a system or as a form of identifying an individual. Any private business is allowed to request and use the SSN as long as the use does not violate federal or state law. Legally, an individual is only required to provide their SSN to a business if they are engaging in a transaction that requires notification to the Internal Revenue Service or the individual is initiating a transaction that is subject to federal Customer Identification Program rules.[15] Thus, an individual can refuse to provide their SSN, but a private business can also refuse to provide a service.[16]

Any public authority requesting the SSN must provide a disclosure notice to the individual explaining if the provision of SSN is required or optional. According to the Privacy Act of 1974, no individual can be denied a government service or benefit for not providing the SSN unless Federal law specifically requires the number for a particular service.[17] Thus, there are a number of Federal legislation in the U.S that specifically require the SSN. For example, the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act 1994 allows for the use of the SSN for jury selection and allows for cross matching of SSNs and Employer Identification Numbers for investigation into violation of Federal Laws. [18]

Public and private entities can request Aadhaar: The Aadhaar number can be adopted by any public or private entity as a single means of identifying an individual. The UIDAI has stated that the Aadhaar number is not mandatory,[19] and the Supreme Court of India has clarified that services cannot be denied on the grounds that an individual does not have an Aadhaar number.[20]


The SSN can be verified only in certain circumstances: The SSA will only respond to requests for SSN verification in certain circumstances:

  • Before issuing a replacement SSN, posting a wage item to the Master Earnings File, or establishing a claims record - the SSA will verify that the name and the number match as per their records.
  • When legally permitted, the SSA verification system will verify SSNs for government agencies.
  • When legally permitted the SSA verification system will verify a workers SSN for pre-registered and approved private employers.
  • If an individual has provided his/her consent, the SSA will verify a SSN request from a third party.

For verification the SSN number must be submitted with an accompanying name to be matched to and additional information such as date of birth, fathers name, mothers name etc. When verifying submitted SSN's, the system will respond with either confirmation that the information matches or that it does not match. It is important to note that because SSN is verified only in certain circumstances, it is not guaranteed that the person providing an SSN number is the person whom the number was assigned.[21]

The Aadhaar number can be verified in any transaction: If an organization, department, or platform has adopted the Aadhaar number as a form of authentication, they can send requests for verification to the UIDAI. The UIDAI will respond with a yes or no answer. When using their Aadhaar number as a form of authentication individuals can submit their number and demographic information or their number and biometrics for verification.[22]

Lost or stolen

SSN can be replaced: If an individual loses his/her SSN card lost or their number is fraudulently used, they can apply for a replacement SSN card or a new SNN number. [23]

Aadhaar number can be replaced: If an individual has lost their Aadhaar number, there is a process that they can follow to have their number re-sent to them. If the number cannot be located by the UIDAI , the individual has the option of re-enrolling for a new Aadhaar number.[24] The UIDAI has built the scheme with the understanding the biometrics are a unique identifier that cannot be lost or stolen, and thus have not created a system to address the possibility of stolen or fraudulent use of biometrics.


Legislation and formal roll out: The SSN program was brought into existence via the Social Security Act and officially rolled out while eventually being adopted across Federal Departments.

Bill and pilot studies: The UID scheme has been envisioned as being brought into existence via the Unique Identification Authority Bill 2010 which has not been passed. Thus far, the project has been implemented in pilot phases across States and platforms.


Social Security Administration: The Social Security Agency is the soul body in the US that receives and processes applications for SSN and issues SSN numbers. [25]

UIDAI, registrars, and enrolling agencies: The UIDAI is the soul body that issues Aadhaar numbers. Registrars (contracted bodies under the UIDAI_ - and enrolling agencies (contracted bodies under Registrars) are responsible for receiving and processing enrollments into the UID scheme.

Required supporting documents

SSN requires proof of age, identity, and citizenship: To obtain a SSN you must be able to provide proof of your age, your identity, and US citizenship. The application form requires the following information:

  • Name to be shown on the card
  • Full name at birth, if different
  • Other names used
  • Mailing address
  • Citizenship or alien status
  • Sex
  • Race/ethnic description (SSA does not receive this information under EAB)
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Mother's name at birth
  • Mother's SSN (SSA collects this information for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on an original application for a child under age 18. SSA does not retain these data.)
  • Fathers' name
  • Father's SSN (SSA collects this information for IRS on an original application for a child under age 18. SSA does not retain these data).
  • Whether applicant ever filed for an SSN before
  • Prior SSNs assigned
  • Name on most recent Social Security card
  • Different date of birth if used on an earlier SSN application.
  • Date application completed
  • Phone number
  • Signature
  • Applicant's relationship to the number holder.[26]

Aadhaar requires proof of age, address, birth, and residence and biometric information: The application form requires the following information:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Address
  • Parent/guardian details
  • Email
  • Mobile number
  • Indication of consenting or not consenting to the sharing of information provided to the UIDAI with Public services including welfare services
  • Indication of if the individual wants the UIDAI to facilitate the opening of a bank account linked to the Aadhaar number and permits the sharing of information for this purpose
  • If the individual has no objection to linking their present bank account to the Aadhaar number and the relevant bank details
  • Signature[27]

[1] Sahil Makkar, "PM's idea to track kids from birth hits practical hurdles", Business Standard. April 11th 2015. Available at: http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/pm-s-idea-to-track-kids-from-birth-hits-practical-hurdles-115041100828_1.html

[2] The Social Security Act of 1935. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/history/35act.html

[3] The United States Department of Justice, "Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974". Available at: http://www.justice.gov/opcl/social-security-number-usage

[4] Government of India Planning Commission "Notification". Available at: https://uidai.gov.in/images/notification_28_jan_2009.pdf

[5] The National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010. Available at: http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/UID/The%20National%20Identification%20Authority%20of%20India%20Bill,%202010.pdf

[6] History of SSA 1993 - 2000. Chapter 6: Program Integrity. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssa/ssa2000chapter6.html

[7] Social Security Number Chronology. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssn/ssnchron.html

[8] History of SSA 1993 - 2000, Chapter 6: Program Integrity. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssa/ssa2000chapter6.html

[9] UID FAQ: Aadhaar Features, Eligibility. Available at: https://resident.uidai.net.in/faqs

[10] Social Security Numbers for Noncitizens. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10096.pdf

[11] Aapka Aadhaar. Available at: https://uidai.gov.in/aapka-aadhaar.html

[12] Program Operations Manual System. Available at: https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0203325025

[13] UIDAI Analytics -Empowering Operations - the UIDAI Experience. Available at: https://uidai.gov.in/images/commdoc/other_doc/uid_doc_30012012.pdf

[14] Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information rules 2011) available at: http://deity.gov.in/sites/upload_files/dit/files/GSR313E_10511(1).pdf

[15] IdentityHawk, "Who can lawfully request my social security number?" Available at: http://www.identityhawk.com/Who-Can-Lawfully-Request-My-Social-Security-Number

[16] SSA FAQ " Can I refuse to give my social security number to a private business?" Available at: https://faq.ssa.gov/link/portal/34011/34019/Article/3791/Can-I-refuse-to-give-my-Social-Security-number-to-a-private-business

[17] The United States Department of Justice, "Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974". Available at: http://www.justice.gov/opcl/social-security-number-usage

[18] Social Security Number Chronology. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssn/ssnchron.html

[19] Aapka Aadhaar. Available at: https://uidai.gov.in/what-is-aadhaar.html

[20] Business Standard, "Aadhaar not mandatory to claim any state benefit, says Supreme Court" March 17th, 2015. Available at: http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/aadhaar-not-mandatory-to-claim-any-state-benefit-says-supreme-court-115031600698_1.html

[21] Social Security History 1993 - 2000, Chapter 6: Program Integrity. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssa/ssa2000chapter6.html

[22] Aapka Aadhaar. Available at: https://uidai.gov.in/auth.html

[23] SSA. New or Replacement Social Security Number Card. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/ssnumber/

[24] UIDAI, Lost EID/UID Process. Available at: https://uidai.gov.in/images/mou/eiduid_process_ver5_2_27052013.pdf

[25] Social Security. Availabl at: http://www.ssa.gov/

[26] Social Security Administration, Application for a Social Security. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf

[27] Aadhaar enrollment/correction form. Available at: http://hstes.in/pdf/2013_pdf/Genral%20Notification/Aadhaar-Enrolment-Form_English.pdf

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