Scripps Howard News Service said it found 31,931 living Americans in a review of three copies of the Social Security Administration's Death Master File, available for purchase on the Internet. The database contains names, Social Security numbers and birth dates.
The agency says about 14,000 names of living people are accidentally included in the file each year, the news service reported Friday. If the Social Security Administration's estimate is accurate, the Social Security numbers of more than 400,000 living Americans have been released since 1980.
While 46 states require the disclosure of such privacy breeches, federal agencies are generally exempt from those laws, Scripps Howard said.
Dozens of people contacted by Scripps Howard for the story said they only found out about the agency's mistakes when they discovered their identity had been stolen.