W&M Asks Facebook for More Information on Policy of Collecting SSNs for Political Advertisers

June 13, 2018 — Press Releases   

Washington, D.C. – House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Ranking Member John Larson (D-CT) led 18 of their Committee colleagues in a bipartisan letter to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding Facebook’s new policy of collecting the last four digits of Social Security numbers (SSNs) for those who seek to purchase political advertisements.

Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Larson wrote to Mr. Zuckerberg:

“We support efforts to ensure the integrity of social media platforms. However…given the bipartisan concerns about the problem of identity theft, including the risk associated with SSNs being stolen, it is important for us to understand how these numbers will be used and how they will be protected.”

“Authenticators based on personal information only work if that information is kept private, but hundreds of millions of SSNs are effectively no longer confidential because of massive data breaches and availability on the dark web. …the continued use of SSNs as either an identifier or an authenticator (or both) for everything from enrolling a child in school to creating a credit record is what makes them so valuable to identity thieves and cybercriminals.”

Ways and Means Members joining Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Larson include: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI), Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA).

The full letter may be found below.

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

We write to request more information on Facebook, Inc.’s recently announced policy of collecting the last four digits of political advertisers’ Social Security numbers (SSN).  We support efforts to ensure the integrity of social media platforms.  However, as the Committee with jurisdiction over the SSN, and given bipartisan concerns about the problem of identity theft, including the risk associated with SSNs being stolen, it is important for us to understand how these important numbers will be used and how they will be protected.

As highlighted at the Social Security Subcommittee’s May 17, 2018, hearing on the future of the SSN, the continued use of SSNs as authenticators is both ineffective and dangerous.  Authenticators based on personal information only work if that information is kept private, but hundreds of millions of SSNs are effectively no longer confidential because of massive data breaches and availability on the dark web.  At the same time, the continued use of SSNs as either an identifier or an authenticator (or both) for everything from enrolling a child in school to creating a credit record is what makes them so valuable to identity thieves and cybercriminals.

To help us understand Facebook’s use of this valuable personal information, please respond to the following:

  1. What is the intended purpose of Facebook’s collection of SSN information?
  2. Since SSNs are associated with individuals and not organizations, whose SSN information do you collect when an organization seeks to place a political advertisement? 
  3. How does Facebook use this information to verify an advertiser’s identity?  Does Facebook verify the authenticity of the collected SSN information?
  4. Is this information transmitted to any third parties?  If so, why?
  5. How does Facebook ensure the security of the SSN information it receives?
  6. How does Facebook ensure the SSN information is properly disposed of following use? 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.  We ask that you respond by no later than July 11, and carefully consider whether this policy is appropriate.  Should you or your staff have any questions, please contact Amy Shuart, the Social Security Subcommittee Majority Staff Director, at (202) 225-9263, and Kathryn Olson, the Social Security Subcommittee Minority Staff Director, at (202) 225-4021.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sam Johnson

Chairman

Subcommittee on Social Security

 

John B. Larson

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Social Security