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Social Security Number Debate Continues

Cole criticizes FCC for Form 323 instructions

Broadcast attorney Harry Cole says the FCC left out important information in a public notice about station ownership reports — namely, that you don’t have to provide a Social Security number if you prefer not to.

That question has been an issue of contention and legal wrangling.

Cole, a communications attorney at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth (and an RW contributor), commented on his blog after the Media Bureau reminded commercial broadcasters that they must file their latest Form 323 between now and Dec. 1.

He says the online form, instructions and FAQ fail to tell respondents that they are not required to provide SSN-based registration numbers if they object to the submission of their Social Security Numbers.

Nor, he says, does the bureau acknowledge that “no individual attributable interest holder will be required to submit Social Security number to obtain an FRN” in order to respond to Form 323 — which, he says, the FCC and a federal appeals court worked out more than a year ago. He also criticized language used in a “pop-up” message on the form for adding to confusion.

Cole provided a short history of the controversy over whether people with attributable ownership interest in a station need to be identified by an FCC Registration Number based on their SSN.

“According to the court, ‘no individual attributable interest holder will be required to submit Social Security number to obtain an FRN’ in order to respond to Form 323,” he wrote, and continued: “We think that all Form 323 filers are entitled to know that. For some reason, the commission seems unenthusiastic about that prospect.

“Unfortunately, the commission appears still to be trying to shore up the multiple weaknesses in its Form 323 in a piecemeal, less-than-public way,” Cole opined, saying the history of Form 323 since 2009 “has not been a particularly happy one, and the most recent developments don’t suggest much improvement.”

Form 323: The Fun Begins Again”

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