Dog tags have been a way of individualizing our servicemembers during the past century. It gave them solace to know that they wouldn’t die unidentified. If their bodies were found, they’d be received by their families. But this entire time, the U.S. Armed forces have been printing something on dog tags that has recently become a larger issue…
The U.S. Armed Forces have been including servicemembers’ Social Security numbers on their dog tags for decades. But in the Internet age where identity theft is a real threat, this information has become a lot more sensitive than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
A dog tag contains several pieces of information that can identify a soldier. Although it varies across branches, a dog tag typically contains a soldier’s:
- Social Security number
- Blood type
But the Dept. of Defense is beginning the process of removing a servicemember’s Social Security number from their dog tags. Instead, they will be phasing in the use of Department of Defense Identification Numbers (DOD IDs). A servicemember’s DOD ID is a randomly generated number that is used to access that person’s records but can not be used outside of military databases.
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A lot of private information can be gleaned from a soldier’s Soc. Sec. number. In a press-release from the U.S. Army, Michael Klemowski of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command said:
“If you find a pair of lost ID tags you can pretty much do anything with that person’s identity because you now have their blood type, their religion, you have their Social [Security number], and you have their name. The only thing missing is their birth date and you can usually get that by Googling a person.”
By switching dog tags over to include DOD ID, personal information about servicemembers can be guarded more closely. The Dept. of Defense is not asking that servicemembers come in get their dog tags changed to include the substituted information. Instead, over the next few years, they are going to switch many governmental systems over to use DOD IDs. This includes government ID cards and TRICARE enrollment. As troops are deployed, they will be getting the new dog tags as well.
As for the old tags, they will slowly begin to dwindle in number. They will become relics of a bygone era, where security surrounding one’s identity wasn’t as tight; when all our troops had to worry about was coming home. It’s a sign of the times, but this change is good change, especially when a warrior’s identity is at stake.