The Office of General Counsel issued the following informal opinion on June 21, 2001, representing the position of the New York State Insurance Department.

Re: Compliance with Regulation 169-Privacy of Consumer Financial and Health Information

It has been brought to our attention that some insurers are requesting that consumers provide their social security number in order to exercise their right to opt out of having their nonpublic personal information shared with nonaffiliated third parties. It is the Department’s position that requiring a consumer’s social security number in order for that consumer to exercise the consumer’s opt out right is inconsistent with the language and the intent of Regulation 169. While the Department has concluded that an opt out notice can include a request for a social security number, compliance with such request must be optional on the part of the consumer. In addition, the fact that it is optional must be disclosed to the consumer and an opt out notice without a social security number must be treated as a valid exercise of the consumer’s opt out right.

The Department realizes that insurers may have sent their opt out notices in advance of the July 1, 2001 compliance date. The Department would prefer that these insurers that sent opt out notices requiring that consumers provide their social security number resend opt out notices without the requirement of a social security number. The Department recognizes, however, that such action may be cost prohibitive and confusing to consumers. Therefore, in lieu of an immediate re-mailing of appropriate opt out notices, the Department will require that:

Effective immediately, all future notices must indicate that provision of the consumer’s social security number is optional.

A new revised opt out notice that does not require a social security number must be sent to all customers at the time of the next policyholder communication; and

An opt out election must be honored even when an opt out form asks for a social security number but the number is not provided.

For further information you may contact Deputy Superintendent & General Counsel Audrey Samers at the New York City Office.