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January 29, 2003 By

New Number, New Headaches

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Social Security numbers are causing trouble in Clay County. It started when the county created an information center -- a group of computers in the county administration building -- where public records could be viewed.

The new facility drew attention from title company representatives, real estate appraisers and mortgage attorneys, who used it to look up records, said Sandra Reeves, Clay County collector. But sensitive personal information often is attached to public documents, and controversy broke out when a county commissioner mentioned in a public meeting -- with local media present -- that some Social Security numbers could be viewed using the information center PCs. Ultimately, county commissioners decided to remove the numbers from the records.

Although widespread use of Social Security numbers as de facto identification numbers for all levels of government will probably change over the coming years, the transition won?t be easy.

?Our software system pulls up the information so much faster if somebody walks up to our counter -- particularly if it has to do with personal property -- and says, ?My Social Security number is ?? Boom! We can pull it up so fast,? Reeves said.

Now, Clay County taxpayers who own land have been issued a 15-digit parcel-identification number, Reeves said. She added that Dec. 31 is the deadline for tax payments, and Social Security numbers play an important role in the process.

?We get between $6,000 and $10,000 per month in bad checks, and the prosecuting attorney can?t prosecute unless I have the Social Security numbers,? she said. ?There?s $120,000 per year lost. Then, I would be writing off $1 million in delinquent taxpayers who leave the state without paying their personal property tax.?

Reeves said she locates delinquent taxpayers through a major credit bureau, which uses Social Security numbers to track them down. ?Without that Social Security number, I have absolutely no way of finding these people,? she said. ?The school districts I represent do not want me writing off $1 million per year.?

Analyze This ?

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) now uses Web analytics to understand how visitors use its Web site.

The WSDOT Web site receives more than 30 million page views every month from visitors seeking information on traffic, roadway construction and other transportation activities. The site?s most popular feature is traveler information, which provides images of current traffic and weather conditions via hundreds of cameras installed on highways throughout the state.

The analytics tool will help WSDOT understand and interpret how thousands of people use these real-time images. The data will help officials better deploy Web-based traffic information to reduce the impacts of roadway incidents and accidents.

WSDOT Web data will be integrated into a custom-built data warehouse to provide daily analytic reports via the Web. Agency managers will use the customized reports to identify site usage patterns, determine how well content and processes are performing, and measure which site areas are drawing the most attention.

WSDOT officials said the analytics tool already reveals how effectively the site is processing sales of passes for the state?s ferry system, the largest in the nation.

The state is working with digiMine Inc., a Washington-based data mining solutions company, to implement the analytics tool.

?Traffic congestion and commuting are important issues for people in Washington state,? said Doug MacDonald, secretary of transportation. ?We know commuters and others value access to the highway cameras for route planning and scheduling. DigiMine enables us to capture and analyze how people use the Web so we can improve and refine our online traveler communications. Then we can apply this new understanding


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