Warner, Klobuchar, McCain Introduce Legislation to Improve National Security and Protect Integrity of U.S. Elections by Bringing Transparency and Accountability to Online Political Ads
Oct 19 2017
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services today introduced the Honest Ads Act to help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.
“Online political advertising represents an enormous marketplace, and today there is almost no transparency. The Russians realized this, and took advantage in 2016 to spread disinformation and misinformation in an organized effort to divide and distract us,” Senator Warner said. “Our bipartisan Honest Ads Act extends transparency and disclosure to political ads in the digital space. At the end of the day, it is not too much to ask that our most innovative digital companies work with us by exercising additional judgment and providing some transparency.”
“First and foremost this is an issue of national security – Russia attacked us and will continue to use different tactics to undermine our democracy and divide our country, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads. We have to secure our election systems and we have to do it now – the next election is only 383 days away,” Senator Klobuchar said. “This bipartisan legislation would help protect our democracy by updating our laws to ensure that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as TV or radio stations – and make them public so Americans can see who is trying to influence them.”
“In the wake of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, it is more important than ever to strengthen our defenses against foreign interference in our elections,” said Senator McCain.“Unfortunately, U.S. laws requiring transparency in political campaigns have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology, allowing our adversaries to take advantage of these loopholes to influence millions of American voters with impunity. Our bipartisan legislation would address this serious challenge by expanding landmark campaign finance law to apply to internet and digital communications platforms that command a significant audience. I have long fought to increase transparency and end the corrupting influence of special interests in political campaigns, and I am confident this legislation will modernize existing law to safeguard the integrity of our election system.”
Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act would prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.
The Honest Ads Act enhances the integrity of our democracy by improving disclosure requirements for online political advertisements by:
- Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements.
- Requiring digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500.00 total on ads published on their platform. The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser.
- Requiring online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.
Companion legislation to the Honest Ads Act is being introduced today in the House of Representatives by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Mike Coffman (R-CO).
“The 2016 elections exposed glaring holes in our ability to police foreign intervention in US elections, and this bill is an appropriate, bipartisan disclosure remedy,” said Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and a former Republican Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “Voters have a right to be fully informed about who is trying to influence their vote, particularly foreign powers whose motives are contrary to American interests. The Honest Ads Act gives voters, journalists, and law enforcement officers important tools to help root out illegal foreign activity. The transparency this bill aims to provide in the 2018 elections and beyond will protect and enhance the integrity of our elections, which are the most fundamental component of American self-governance.”
“Ensuring transparency and accountability remain encoded into our democracy in the 21st century has taken on new importance and relevance in the wake of the 2016 election. We hope this bill, which merits serious consideration, catalyzes an overdue public debate and substantive action in Congress and the Federal Election Commission to create platform parity for political ad disclosure across TV, radio, print and Internet companies. Opacity by design is not an acceptable status quo for the technology giants that shape public knowledge and discourse with limited accountability,” said Alexander B. Howard, Deputy Director of the Sunlight Foundation.
“The bipartisan introduction of the Honest Ads Act is an important step toward bringing American campaign finance law into the internet age, by ensuring that online political advertisements are subject to the same kind of disclosure rules that already exist for ads on television and radio,” said Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “At a time when hostile foreign powers are trying to exploit loopholes in our campaign laws to manipulate American elections, it is especially important for Congress to come together across partisan lines to strengthen our democracy. The Brennan Center applauds Senators Klobuchar, Warner and McCain for reaching across partisan lines to introduce this significant bill.”
“Americans have a right to know who is using political advertising to influence their votes and their views. As technology changes and political advertising shifts to online platforms, our transparency laws should keep pace. The recent revelations of Kremlin-connected influence operations on Facebook and Twitter underscore how important it is for Congress to take meaningful action. The HONEST Act is a critical step forward in enhancing the transparency of online political advertising. Common Cause commends Senators Klobuchar, Warner and McCain for their strong bipartisan leadership in introducing this important bill to bolster the integrity of our democracy,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with oversight jurisdiction over federal elections, Klobuchar has introduced legislation to improve the security of U.S. election systems and make commonsense improvements to election administration. She and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the bipartisan Stop Foreign Donations Affecting Our Elections Act to strengthen disclosure by requiring federal campaigns to use existing credit card verification protocols to help verify that online credit card donations come from U.S. sources. Klobuchar and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also introduced bipartisan legislation to help states block cyber-attacks, secure voter registration logs and voter data, upgrade election auditing procedures, and create secure and useful information sharing about threats. In June, Klobuchar introduced the Helping State and Local Governments Prevent Cyber Attacks Act to help combat foreign interference by providing state and local governments with the information and resources they need to keep our elections secure and improve voter confidence.
As vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner has been at the forefront of the Committee’s ongoing bipartisan counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Warner also is the co-founder of the Senate’s bipartisan Cybersecurity Caucus. In addition, Sen. Warner is working to finalize bipartisan legislation to create a comprehensive, nationwide and uniform data breach standard, requiring timelier consumer notification for breaches of financial data and other sensitive information, and setting national data-protection standards for companies handling sensitive personal information.
Senator McCain has been a champion of campaign finance reform for decades. As a lead author of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, he has long advocated of transparency in the American electoral process.
Sen. Warner Asks FTC to Probe Equifax Data, Security Practices & Customer Service Response After Recent Hack
Sep 13 2017
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Banking, Budget and Finance committees and cofounder of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, today asked the Federal Trade Commission to examine the recent cyber hack of credit reporting agency Equifax. Last week, Equifax publically disclosed a breach which exposed sensitive personal information of 143 million Americans.
Sen. Warner requested an FTC investigation into the lapse in Equifax cybersecurity practices, and questioned the company’s widely-panned response to consumers potentially impacted by the breach. His letter asks the FTC to examine whether credit reporting agencies such as Equifax have adequate cybersecurity safeguards in place for “the enormous amounts of sensitive data they gather and commercialize.”
Sen. Warner has been a leader in calling for better consumer protections from data theft. In the aftermath of the Target breach that exposed the debit and credit card information of 40 million customers, Sen. Warner in 2014 chaired the first congressional hearing on protecting consumer data from the threat posed by hackers targeting retailers’ online systems. Sen. Warner also partnered with the National Retail Federation to establish an information sharing platform that allows the industry to better protect consumer financial information from data breaches.
Sen. Warner has been working to develop bipartisan legislation to create a comprehensive, nationwide and uniform data breach standard requiring timely consumer notification for breaches of financial data and other sensitive information.
The text of the letter is below and can be found here.
September 13, 2017
The Honorable Maureen K. Ohlhausen
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
Dear Acting Chairwoman Ohlhausen,
I write you in the wake of reports that one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies has suffered one of the largest, and potentially most impactful, breaches in recent history. According to reports, Equifax in May of this year experienced a breach affecting as many as 143 million consumers, with highly sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license records, birthdates, addresses, and credit histories potentially at risk. This information – critical to opening a new bank account or taking out a loan – will expose Americans to identity theft, tax fraud, extortion, and other risks.
By streamlining and routinizing the collection of consumer reports and credit history, the Fair Credit Reporting Act in part enshrined the nation’s major credit reporting agencies’ role as arbiters of Americans’ access to credit, and even employment and residential opportunities. At the same time, Congress sought to ensure that these firms “exercise their grave responsibilities” with a “respect for the consumer’s right to privacy,” including through “reasonable procedures…with regard to the confidentiality, accuracy, relevancy, and proper utilization of such information[.]” And Congress directed the Federal Trade Commission (“Commission” or “FTC”) to enforce key aspects of the law, including by treating violations of the FCRA as unfair or deceptive practices under the Commission’s Section 5 authority.
Today’s digital economy, in which data increasingly represents a key input, has only amplified the reach of these firms, and provided them with incentives to collect and centralize ever-growing amounts of sensitive personal information, and to commercialize this data in opaque ways. The volume and sensitivity of the data potentially involved in this breach raises serious questions about whether firms like Equifax adequately protect the enormous amounts of sensitive data they gather and commercialize.
As someone who has worked for several years with stakeholders and a bipartisan group of lawmakers on legislation to establish a comprehensive, nationwide and uniform data breach standard, I recognize Congress’s unfinished work in this area. I am hopeful that this recent development will help galvanize action among my colleagues in Congress to safeguard American consumers and our nation’s economic security.
At the same time, aspects of this breach raise questions about the data security practices of Equifax that implicate the Federal Trade Commission’s existing authority. In particular, press reports and cybersecurity experts have identified a number of security lapses, including in the days following Equifax’s disclosure of the breach, that potentially indicate a pattern of security failings.
While the precise details of the “website application vulnerability” exploited in the Equifax breach are not yet known, experts have pointed to a wide range of other lapses by Equifax – including in the wake of the breach – that indicate exceptionally poor cybersecurity practices. For instance, experts have pointed to an exceedingly broad attack surface, with thousands of domains and subdomains managed by Equifax across hundreds of network hosts. And security experts have identified a range of antiquated, unpatched, or otherwise vulnerable systems maintained by Equifax.
Equifax’s post-breach actions also raise serious concerns about the company’s data security practices. For instance, Equifax chose to register a new domain, Equifaxsecurity2017.com – but not in its own name. Reports also catalogued a litany of security mistakes, including use of potentially insecure content management software and improperly configured web encryption. These, and other lapses, resulted in a range of popular web browsers flagging Equifax’s site as a potential phishing or scam site.
Equally alarming have been Equifax’s procedures for handling customer inquiries. In order for a concerned consumer to determine if they may have been impacted, Equifax requires the consumer to submit their last name and six digits of their Social Security number. The security of this procedure is as questionable as its efficacy: researchers noted that entering the last name “Test” and the Social Security numbers “123456” returned a confirmed breach.
Similarly alarming, when concerned consumers elect to place a credit freeze with Equifax – something the Commission encourages them to do – the PIN that Equifax assigns to that consumer is a simple, non-unique timestamp (formatted as, for instance, “0910170930” for a user that submitted a request at 9:30AM on the 10th of September). Separately, experts have noted that Equifax’s central website, where American consumers go to set up credit account monitoring, features cross-site scripting vulnerabilities that would enable an attacker to execute malicious code to, for instance, redirect submitted form data (such as the Social Security number the Equifax site requests) to an attacker.
Taken as a whole, and given past breaches by other major credit bureaus, these lapses may potentially represent a systemic failure by firms currently incentivized to collect and store highly sensitive identification and financial data for Americans. The volume and sensitivity of the data involved – information critical to identity management and access to consumer credit – distinguishes this breach from many other breaches of consumer data. And in contrast to other breaches, where consumers might respond to the perceived lack of data security by taking their business elsewhere, those affected by last week’s breach in most cases do not have a direct consumer relationship with Equifax.
The implications of a breach of this magnitude are sobering, as this identifying data forms the basis for consumer credit and other financial transactions. Congress foresaw this threat in 1970, noting that failures of this industry could “undermine the public confidence which is essential to the continued functioning of the banking system.” In ways similar to the financial service industry’s systemic risk designation, I fear that firms like Equifax may illustrate a set of institutions whose activities, left unchecked, can significantly threaten the economic security of Americans.
I respectfully request that you respond to the following questions:
- 1. Equifax is currently under a consent decree with the Commission for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act related to improper handling of consumer information. Does that consent decree provide the Commission with additional remedies in the context of Equifax’s data security practices?
- 2. Given the current inability of consumers to cease doing business with a credit reporting agency which displays an arguably cavalier attitude toward cybersecurity, should the Fair Credit Reporting Act be amended to provide the Commission authority to issue rules requiring credit reporting agencies to establish a way for consumers to “opt out” of having their information stored by a particular credit reporting agency?
- 3. In many cases, Equifax collects and maintains sensitive information about consumers as a service to other businesses. Under state data breach notification statutes, a breached service provider need only inform the business it provides service to about the breaches it suffers, and has no obligation to provide public notice that it incurred the breach. In recent breach incidents involving third-party service providers, some companies (e.g., Heartland, Experian, Anthem, etc.) have provided public notice that their breach affected consumers. Would the FTC support legislation that requires all entities suffering a breach of security that creates a significant risk of financial harm, to make public notice of that breach in order to ensure a more timely and effective form of notice?
- 4. Do you interpret the Fair Credit Reporting Act to include heightened data security standards and/or requirements, given Congress’s unique concern about the “confidentiality, accuracy…and proper utilization” of this highly sensitive data?
- 5. The Commission has suggested that consumers place a credit freeze with the three major credit bureaus. Does the Commission consider a timestamp to be a sufficiently strong PIN for unfreezing a consumer’s account?
- a. Has the Commission issued guidance to credit reporting agencies on adequate security and data protection measures associated with credit freezes?
- b. Should this guidance be updated in light of security concerns with the site Equifax maintains to process credit monitoring and freeze requests?
- 6. Should Congress limit the ability of credit reporting agencies to sell data outside specific contexts, such as credit, banking, and employment inquiries?
- 7. Does the Commission hold lapses in data security practices in response to a breach to a higher standard than data security practices related to the breach itself?
- 8. Do adequate incentives to use reasonable data security practices, or penalties to deter unreasonable data security practices, exist to counter-balance the profit incentives to collect, centralize, and maintain large quantities of highly sensitive personal information of American consumers?
The American people deserve to know that their government is serious about learning from and responding to this truly concerning incident, and that it is taking all appropriate steps to help ensure it cannot happen again. Your response will be critical to this process, and I look forward to receiving that within the next two weeks. If you should have any questions or concerns, please contact my office.
As always, I appreciate your service in this important role. Thank you for your timely consideration of this matter.
MARK R. WARNER
United States Senator