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Social Security Number Requirements
Since 1998, purchasers of Pennsylvania fishing license have been required to provide their Social Security numbers when they apply to purchase a fishing license. This requirement is set forth in federal and state laws on enforcement of child support obligations.  Similar requirements apply to other state licenses, including drivers' licenses and hunting licenses, in Pennsylvania and the other states. By now, purchasers of fishing licenses, and the issuing agents who sell the licenses, should be more familiar with these requirements, which are becoming more routine. Issuing agents and license buyers are expected to do their parts to support this program by providing the requested information on fishing licenses.
Federal Law
The U.S. Congress has enacted a number of new laws to improve enforcement of child support obligations. As part of a broad "welfare reform" effort, the U.S. Government has required that states implement new requirements to encourage payment of child support. States that fail to implement these requirements face possible loss of federal welfare funds.

The "welfare reform" legislation contains hundreds of provisions. Out of this massive new law, a handful of the new federal requirements affect purchasers and holders of recreational licenses, including hunting and fishing licenses. One provision requires states to deny hunting and fishing licenses to certain persons in arrears on child support when a court issues an order revoking or denying such licenses. Another requires government agencies to obtain Social Security numbers from applicants for recreational licenses, including fishing licenses.

Pennsylvania Law
In 1997, the Pennsylvania General Assembly considered comprehensive legislation to implement the new federal requirements at the state level. Act 1997-58 was signed into law on December 16, 1997. This law took effect January 1, 1998. This law addresses hundreds of issues; as with the federal law, a couple of provisions affect fishing license buyers.

Section 2 of the Act amends 23 Pa.C.S. § 4304.1 to require the Social Security numbers of applicants for various licenses, including fishing licenses. Section 9 of the Act amends 23 Pa.C.S. § 4355 to provide for the denial or suspension of fishing licenses of persons three or more months in arrears on child support. The fishing privileges of such persons are suspended or denied only when a court issues an order requiring such action.

Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How does the law affect the way fishing licenses are issued?

A: Purchasers of fishing licenses will be asked for their Social Security numbers when they buy fishing licenses.

Q: Do I have to show my Social Security card to buy a fishing license?

A: No. Issuing agents will ask you to state or write down your Social Security number.

Q: I don't want to state my Social Security number out loud in front of others. What can I do?

A: You may write it on the license form or another piece of paper and give it to the issuing agent. Alternatively, you may ask to enter it yourself directly into the license issuing system using a Numeric Key Pad.

Q: How do I know my number is safe with the issuing agent?

A. If you choose to enter your number into the key pad directly, the agent never sees the number and the system is set up so there is no way to retrieve social security numbers at terminals. Similar to entering a password in a computer, the numbers are not displayed as they are entered.

Q: I don't have a Social Security number. Can I still buy a fishing license?

A: Issuing agents will sell you a fishing license if you state you don't have a Social Security number. For example, foreign visitors who come to Pennsylvania to fish will not have a Social Security number. Every resident license buyer should have a Social Security number, and those who don't should take prompt action to get one. License buyers who fail to provide complete and accurate information at the time they purchase a license may be subject to administrative action or penalties under the Fish and Boat Code.

Q: I object to giving out my Social Security number. Can I still purchase a fishing license?

A: License buyers are required provide complete and accurate information when they purchase a fishing license. Purchasers of fishing licenses, like holders of many other licenses and permits, are expected to provide their Social Security numbers when they purchase a license. SSNs are routinely provided for many other purposes. The PFBC's issuing agents are private businesses who cannot be expected to undertake on-the-spot enforcement of the Social Security number requirement. Issuing agents are expected to be positive in seeking compliance with the SSN requirements. If it appears that a license buyer has failed to provide complete and accurate information, the PFBC may undertake appropriate action.

Q: I thought it was illegal to require someone to give out his or her Social Security number?

A: The law has changed. Under the recent changes to federal and state law, it is clearly legal to require Social Security numbers from purchasers of recreational licenses.

Q: What will the Fish and Boat Commission and the issuing agents do with the Social Security numbers?

A: If and when a court issues an order denying or suspending a fishing license for failure to pay child support, the Social Security number will be used as an identifier to verify the identity of  a person whose fishing privileges are suspended or denied. The Social Security number information will not be furnished to the federal government or any other government agency to compile a database of license buyers for any purpose. The only database into which this information may be entered is a PFBC database of license buyers that might be created at some point in the future several years from now. The SSN will only be used to cross-check the identities of persons under suspension or denial of fishing licenses for failure to pay child support. Even at that time, however, the Social Security numbers of license buyers will not be used for any other purpose other than to verify compliance with court orders on child support obligations.

Q: If I give my Social Security number when I buy a fishing license, will it become public information?

A: No. Section 324 of the Fish and Boat Code makes it clear that records maintained by the Fish and Boat Commission and its issuing agents that contain personal information are NOT public records under Pennsylvania law.

Q: I have no problem giving my Social Security Number to the issuing agent, but I don't want it to be shown on the back of my fishing license in case I lose it.

A: This is no longer an issue, numbers are not printed on the license.

Q: I'm a couple of months behind in paying child support. Does this mean I am automatically barred from buying a fishing license?

A: No. A court order is required to prohibit the issuance of a fishing license or to suspend an existing license. ou should receive notice before your fishing privileges are affected. No such court orders have been issued in Pennsylvania, and, even when the law has been in effect for a while, it is expected that there will be relatively few such orders issued every year.  Actions with regard to the drivers' license of persons who fail to pay child support are expected to be much more common than actions suspending or denying fishing licenses. The best way to avoid problems with your fishing license and other licenses (including your driver's license) is to get yourself up-to-date on your child support.

Q: How can the requirement to provide Social Security numbers be changed?

A: It appears that Congress would have to change the federal law so that states are no longer required to collect Social Security numbers from purchasers of hunting and fishing licenses. Pennsylvania is leading the way in an effort to convince Congress to change this requirement. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed House Resolution 482, which asks the President and Congress to eliminate the requirement that purchasers of fishing and hunting licenses provide their SSNs. The Pennsylvania Senate is considering a similar resolution. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission have taken the position that, while we must comply with this requirement of state and federal law, we do not believe it is an effective mechanism to enforce child support. The Commissions believe this requirement unduly inconveniences license buyers and raises privacy concerns with little corresponding benefit in terms of effective enforcement of child support.  The Fish and Boat Commission supports changing the Social Security number requirement, but as long as it remains the law, we must ask all purchasers of licenses to comply.

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