Merkley to Social Secuity: Don't expect seniors to have texting cellphones

Merkley to Social Secuity: Don't expect seniors to have texting cellphones

PORTLAND, Ore. -

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., wrote Tuesday to Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin to address the new system at the Social Security Administration that requires seniors receiving Social Security benefits to have a text-enabled cell phone in order to log into their online accounts.

Merkley specifically asked for the new system to develop and implement an alternative system for seniors who don’t have a text-enabled cell phone.

“As many Americans, especially older Americans, do not have a text-enabled cell phone or may be unable to use text messaging, I respectfully ask that the Social Security Administration develop and implement alternative multi-factor authentication methods,” Merkley wrote.

“Providing only one method of authentication places an undue burden on recipients who may be unfamiliar with text messaging, may not have a text-enabled phone, or are unable to use text messaging due to disability.”

The SSA recently implemented this new mandatory my Social Security multi-factor authentication feature in order to comply with President Obama’s Executive Order, “Improving the Security of Consumer Financial Transactions.”

The full text of the sent today is below:

August 8, 2016

Carolyn W. Colvin

Commissioner

Social Security Administration

6401 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21235

Dear Commissioner Colvin,

Thank you for your ongoing work and dedication to administering and protecting one of our nation’s most important and successful programs. Americans pay into Social Security during their working years and count on being able to easily access their benefits to retire without sinking into poverty. For this reason, I write with concern about the new mandatory my Social Security multi-factor authentication feature that requires recipients to have a text-enabled cell phone in order to log into their account. As many Americans, especially older Americans, do not have a text-enabled cell phone or may be unable to use text messaging, I respectfully ask that the Social Security Administration develop and implement alternative multi-factor authentication methods.

I understand that the Social Security Administration implemented the text messaging multi-factor authentication feature in order to comply with President Obama’s Executive Order, “Improving the Security of Consumer Financial Transactions.” I applaud your agency for working quickly and with limited resources to ensure that beneficiaries’ information is better protected. As you know, and as the President highlighted in his Executive Order, it is critical to protect beneficiaries against online fraud by enhancing cybersecurity measures.

Yet, providing only one method of authentication places an undue burden on recipients who may be unfamiliar with text messaging, may not have a text-enabled phone, or are unable to use text messaging due to disability. According to the Pew Research Center, only 35 percent of those over the age of 65 use text messaging. With the majority of individuals at or above Social Security retirement benefit age not equipped to text, developing alternative multi-factor authentication methods is crucial to ensuring that all recipients have equal access to their my Social Security accounts.

The Social Security Administration’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Overview states that your agency plans to implement more than one multi-factor authentication method. According to page 18 of the overview: “By offering more multi-factor options, we can improve usability and lower the chances of online fallout…” I agree with this statement and urge the Social Security Administration to quickly fulfill their plan to offer at least one alternative multi-factor authentication method that may be more easily accessible to beneficiaries.

Protecting Social Security recipients’ private information should be a top priority and I applaud the Social Security Administration for implementing a multi-factor authentication feature with that priority in mind. As services and information become more available online, I respectfully encourage you to consider accessibility and implement additional multi-factor authentication methods to ensure that all hard-working Americans are able to access their Social Security benefits.

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your response.

All my best,

Jeffrey A. Merkley