I-3-1-16.The Internet and Case Adjudication

Last Update: 8/30/13 (Transmittal I-3-55)

A. Introduction

Generally, when adjudicating a claim, staff and adjudicators may not rely on information from the Internet that has not been corroborated by a Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit (CDIU). Further, entering an individual's personally identifiable information (PII) in an Internet search engine or social media network may compromise the confidentiality of PII. The responsibility to protect PII within an employee's control applies at all times, regardless of whether the employee is at an official duty station, another official work location, an alternate duty station, or off duty. This policy applies whether the individual is using a computer or personal device such as a smartphone.

B. Internet Sites and Social Media Networks

1. Adjudication at the Appeals Council Level

Analysts and adjudicators must not use Internet sites and social media networks to obtain information about claimants to adjudicate cases. However, if information from Internet sites and social media networks has been corroborated by the CDIU and associated with the record, adjudicators will consider that information when adjudicating the case.

When the Appeals Council (AC) exercises its authority to issue a decision, the instructions in Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-5-69 B. apply.

2. Internet Evidence Associated Earlier in Administrative Process

a. When the Evidence May Be Considered

As noted in HALLEX I-2-5-69 B., an administrative law judge (ALJ) will consider information from Internet sites or social media networks in adjudicating a claim when:

  • The information from an Internet site or social media network has been corroborated by the CDIU and associated with the record; or

  • The information was submitted by the claimant or an appointed representative.

b. AC Action

The appropriate AC action will depend on the facts of the case and all relevant circumstances.

  • If the AC determines that an ALJ inappropriately relied on information from an Internet site or social media network when adjudicating the claim, the AC will grant review. If the AC determines a remand is appropriate, the AC will consider remanding the case to a different ALJ, and will instruct the ALJ to give the evidence no weight. If the evidence is not exhibited, the AC will not exhibit the evidence, and will instruct the ALJ not to exhibit the evidence.

  • If the AC determines that the ALJ did not rely on the information from an Internet site or social media network, and there is no other basis for granting review, the AC will deny the request for review. The AC will not address the evidence in the denial notice and, if the evidence is not exhibited, will not exhibit the evidence.

NOTE:

The AC will also consider whether a referral to the Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge (OCALJ) may be appropriate. To refer a case, the AC adjudicator will discuss the issue with his or her Division Chief Administrative Appeals Judge (DCAAJ). If the DCAAJ agrees a referral is appropriate, the AC adjudicator will prepare a draft memorandum to the Executive Director for the DCAAJ's signature. The DCAAJ will electronically sign the memorandum and forward it to |||ODAR OAO with the subject line “OCALJ Referral.” The Executive Director will review the memorandum and determine whether to refer the case to OCALJ.

C. Verifying Inmate Information on the Internet

The Social Security Administration (SSA) must make sure that any website accessed for inmate information is not protected by privacy and disclosure laws, and that the website administrator does not charge a fee for accessing information on the website. Each website that SSA visits for prisoner information must provide reliable and current information on its inmate population. The website must also have the information displayed in a clear and readable format that is unlikely to result in misinterpretation of any of its content or an incorrect conclusion about a claimant's identity or inmate status.

SSA has designated regional prisoner coordinators (RPC) who identify websites that are accurate and reliable, as noted in Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 02607.680C. An RPC supplies information for the prisoner Internet website page available through the regional office's Intranet site, which provides addresses for the approved correctional and mental institution websites broken down by State in each of the corresponding regions. The Philadelphia region's Intranet site, located at http://phapps.ph.ssa.gov/prisoninformation/, includes links to approved Internet sites for prison facilities throughout the country.

For procedures on using the Internet as a third-party source of inmate verification, see POMS GN 02607.680D.

For alternative methods of verifying or obtaining inmate information, see POMS GN 02607.680B.