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(released 12/01/06)

Watchdog Group Announces Recall of Concealed Weapon Permit ID Cards

MISSOULA - The Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA) announces a recall today of most concealed weapon permit (CWP) ID cards issued in Montana.  MSSA is recommending that permit holders seek a replacement permit from the issuing sheriff if the permittee's Social Security Number (SSN) is printed on the CWP ID card.

MSSA president Gary Marbut commented, "We all know that SSNs are the jackpot for ID thieves.  All ID theft advisories warn that a person should not have their SSN in their wallet or purse.  We urge people to replace CWP ID cards that carry an SSN with one that does not.  Sheriffs should not charge to replace these defective cards."

Montana law requires CWP applicants to provide their SSN to their sheriff when they apply for a permit to facilitate the required background check.  No law requires sheriffs to actually put SSNs on the ID card they issue to permit holders.  Yet sheriffs commonly print permittees SSNs on the ID cards because of mistaken direction given to sheriffs by the Montana Department of Justice.  DOJ is required by law to provide a model form for sheriffs to use for CWP ID cards.  The form DOJ has provided to sheriffs contains a blank for the permittee's SSN, misleading sheriffs to believe it is required to have the SSN on the card.  Most Montana sheriffs follow this direction from DOJ and print SSNs on CWP ID cards, thereby exposing CWP holders to an unnecessary and enhanced risk of identity theft.

Marbut continued, "We asked Attorney General McGrath and DOJ to send an advisory letter to sheriffs informing them that placing SSNs on these ID cards is not required by law and is actually contrary to DOJ privacy and anti-identity theft policy.  DOJ declined to participate in solving this problem they had created, saying they wished to hand the problem off to a non-governmental entity for solution, or wait for the Legislature to possibly offer a correction.  We are very frustrated with how state government talks a good talk about protecting citizens' privacy, but actually works against it.  In this case DOJ is the source of the problem and refuses to be part of the solution."

Marbut expects that sheriffs will be quite willing to replace the CWP ID cards carrying SSNs with new cards that don't include SSNs, to help protect permittees from privacy loss and identity theft.  The Legislature passed a law to take SSNs off driver's license ID cards for exactly this reason.

MSSA is the principle entity advocating for gun owners and hunters in Montana, and is responsible for the passage of the concealed weapon permit law that is currently on the statute books in Montana.  MSSA has achieved passage of up to 45 pro-gun and pro-hunting bills in the last 20 years.

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Information:  Gary Marbut, 549-1252


MSSA county survey; SSNs on CWP cards

Beaverhead County - Yes
Butte-Silverbow County - Yes
Custer County - Yes
Dawson County - No
Fergus County - Yes
Flathead County - No
Gallatin County - Yes
Jefferson County - Yes
Lewis and Clark County - Yes
Mineral County - Yes
Missoula County - Yes
Park County - No
Ravalli County - Yes
Richland County - No
Sanders County - Yes
Sheridan County - Yes
Teton County - Yes
Toole County - Yes
Yellowstone County - Yes

Letter to AG McGrath, sent both electronically and on MSSA letterhead by U.S. Mail.

November 27, 2006

Mike McGrath
Montana Attorney General
Montana Department of Justice
215 N. Sanders
Helena, Montana 59601

Dear Mike,

It has come to my attention that when many Montana sheriffs issue concealed weapon permits (CWP) they print the permittee's Social Security Number (SSN) on the face of the identification card issued to the permittee.

Although Montana law (45-8-322, M.C.A.) requires CWP applicants to provide their SSNs on the CWP application forms, there is nothing in Montana law that requires a sheriff to put the permittee's SSN on the CWP card issued by the sheriff.

We request that you issue an advisory letter to county attorneys and sheriffs stating that it is an unacceptable violation of a permittee's right to privacy to place their SSN on the CWP card issued by a Montana sheriff.  Montana law clearly gives MTDoJ the authority to speak to the form of the CWP card issued by sheriffs:

45-8-322, (3)  ... The permit and each renewal must be … in a form prescribed by the department of justice, and must at a minimum include the name, address, physical description, signature, driver's license or state identification card number, and a picture of the permittee.

In addition to the constitutional privacy issue, all authorities advising about identity theft prevention strongly advise people to guard their SSN, the golden key to identity theft.  It is highly recommended that a person NOT have their SSN together with any identification or credit cards, in case of loss or theft of a wallet or purse.

I have conducted an informal email survey of MSSA members asking those with CWPs to report if the issuing county places the permittee's SSN on the issued CWP identification card.  The first results of this county survey are as follows:  Butte-Silverbow - Yes; Cascade - Yes; Custer - Yes; Fergus - Yes; Flathead - Yes; Gallatin - Yes; Jefferson - Yes; Lewis and Clark - Yes; Missoula - Yes; Park - No; Ravalli - Yes; and Richland - No.

I find this high publication incidence of SSNs to be alarming and offensive.

Mike, I even question whether the law requiring CWP applicants to submit SSNs on CWP applications passes constitutional muster.  On the floor of the 1972 Constitutional Convention, the author of the current right to privacy provision, Bob Campbell, stated that the purpose of this (then) proposed right was to prevent "snooping" into the private lives of private people.  This applies especially to government actors under the Montana Supreme Court's Long decision.  The exact purpose of SSN use is to facilitate gathering information about private individuals - snooping.  Therefore, there is little question but what SSN use by government actors runs counter to the intent for the right to privacy the people of Montana have reserved to themselves in their Constitution.  It is quite likely that requiring SSNs of CWP applicants fails to rise to the compelling state interest required by the Montana Constitution for invasion of the right to privacy.

If you should lack the authority to declare that collection of SSNs on CWP applications violates Montana citizens' right to privacy, you certainly have all the authority and legislative blessing necessary to prevent issuing sheriffs from putting SSNs on the wallet ID cards issued to CWP applicants.

We ask that you do so, as soon as possible.  We also ask you to direct sheriffs to reissue current CWP ID cards without SSNs upon request by any permittee.

Finally, Montana law does not require permittees to have their CWP ID card on their person in order to exercise their privilege to carry a concealed weapon.  The law only requires them to apply for and be "issued" a permit (see 45-8-317 (1)(g), M.C.A.).  Until SSNs are no longer printed on the face of CWP ID cards, my advice to permittees with SSNs on their CWP cards will be to leave the card secured at home so they won't suffer the escalated risk of identity theft if their wallet or purse should be lost or stolen.

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Marbut
President, MSSA
Author, Gun Laws of Montana

Response from DOJ

Subject: Social Security Numbers on Concealed Weapons Permits
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2006 14:39:49 -0700
From: "Hollenbaugh, Galen" <>
To: <>


Mike McGrath is out of the office for a few days and has asked me to get back to you regarding your recent e-mail and letter expressing concerns about the collection and use of social security numbers (SSN) for concealed weapon permits. As you noted Mont. Code. Ann. § 45-8-332 requires applicants to provide their SSN when applying for a concealed weapon permit. The provision of an applicant’s SSN is necessary in order for the county sheriff to conduct a background check as required by Montana law.

I recognize your concerns about use of the SSN on the concealed weapon permit and the potential for identity theft. Mike has encouraged agencies not to use SSN as an identifier on any citizen documents (ie. hunting licenses). I will contact The Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association about this issue and work with the MSPOA to educate county sheriffs about the risk of using SSNs as a personal identifier and strongly encourage those who use them, to remove SSNs from issued concealed weapons permits. I have also brought this issue to the attention of the Governor's Concealed Weapons Advisory Council.

I encourage you to review Senate Bill 33 that will be introduced in the upcoming 2007 session that seeks to protect SSNs and put procedures in place in case of a data breach involving such sensitive information. The Department of Justice will be supporting this legislation and will continue to work to educate Montana consumers about identity theft and ways that they can protect themselves.

Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention.

Galen Hollenbaugh
Deputy Chief of Staff
Montana Department of Justice
(406) 444-2026