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Social Security sends info online

New Social Security information will soon be available online, not provided by Lexis-Nexis, but by the government itself, which is trying to make more public records and forms accessible over the Internet.

Fueling a government trend to make more public records and forms accessible over the Internet, the Social Security Administration will launch a pilot program by year's end to deliver sensitive personal earnings information online, officials said today.

Last April, the Administration began allowing people to request their "Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statements" by filling out online forms on a secure server. In turn, the Administration returns the results by mail.

In the five months since the project began, 30,000 people have made online requests, Phil Gambino, spokesman for the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C., said today.

That's a drop in the bucket compared with the 4 million people a year who request that information by mail or on the phone, he said.

But it's a good start in the government's increasing effort to prepare for a future where an increasingly large number of people will be online. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs recently made passport forms available, for example.

"Basically, it's a public service," Gambino said. "We're trying to do as much work as we can electronically. We're trying to get involved much earlier."

Now the Administration is ready to return those results online, but it is proceeding slowly and cautiously to make sure the process is completely secure, especially in light of the public panic caused by knowledge that Lexis-Nexis provides sensitive personal information to some of its subscribers.

Last month, the Internal Revenue Service shelved plans to allow taxpayers to file returns online, following a critical report by the General Accounting Office.

"It is a concern of ours," Gambino said. "We do not want to take any risk or chance that someone would be able to access our sensitive forms. Our major concern has been setting up this computer firewall so there's no chance at all that someone could access our databases."

The trial run likely will be launched from a public place, such as a library, in a yet undesignated city, Gambino said. People will then be able to use online forms to find out what their various Social Security benefits would be at the time they requested them.