The Federal Trade Commission is already investigating the massive data breach at Equifax that exposed the personal information of 143 million U.S. consumers to hackers, but a number of top Democrats in the Senate want the agency to extend its investigation to the other big credit reporting agencies.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the FTC, sixteen Senate Democrats ask the agency to “immediately” review the data security at Equifax, Experian, and Transunion to ensure that consumers’ personal information is appropriately protected from hackers.
“As one of the three major consumer reporting agencies, Equifax centrally holds the most sensitive PII [Personally Identifiable Information]—information that determines whether Americans will be able to purchase a car, secure a loan for a home, attain employment, and countless other functions that are critical to economic growth,” the Senators wrote in a letter to FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen.
“We were pleased to hear the Federal Trade Commission confirm that it is indeed investigating the Equifax data breach, but a breach of this scale warrants a proactive review of data security at all three of the major consumer reporting agencies,” they continue. “A breach of this size no doubt leaves other consumer reporting agencies a target.”
The Senators also reiterate recent calls to look into how Equifax disclosed the breach – specifically, why the company took so long to notify the public.
The Senators also repeat an earlier inquiry into whether three Equifax executives engaged in insider trading in the wake of discovering the breach.
“Equifax’s actions around the discovery and disclosure of the data breach raise additional questions about the company’s fidelity to the very consumers whose data they hold,” the Senators write.
“Instead of quickly making this information available to the public and the affected consumers, Equifax waited six weeks before announcing the data breach. And yet, during those six weeks, Equifax’s Chief Financial Officer, president of U.S. information solutions, and president of workforce solutions managed to find time to sell Equifax shares worth nearly $2 million in the span of a mere five days after the company discovered the breach,” they continue. “We are troubled by this revelation, and we find no reasonable justification for such a delay in informing those affected.”
The Senators state that the Equifax data breach suggests that there may be similar security issues at Experian and Transunion.
“Equifax’s security breach exposed serious fault lines in the company’s ability to protect (personal information),” the Senators write. “We are deeply concerned that these problems may also exist at the other consumer reporting agencies.”
Therefore, the Senators ask the FTC to “promptly investigate the causes of the Equifax data breach; develop recommendations for data security standards for consumer reporting agencies’ central holding of PII and related consumer financial information; conduct a review of the existing data security standards at the consumer reporting agencies to determine whether Americans’ personal data is secure; and consult with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to ensure that in the case of a data breach, consumers are being notified in a timely manner and have access to all of the necessary tools to protect themselves against identity theft.”
The Senators ask the FTC to identify the “specific safeguards” that all three major credit reporting agencies have in place to prevent a data breach, and ask whether the government and financial institutions should reconsider using Social Security numbers as a national identifier.
The letter is signed by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island; Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland; Michael Bennet, D-Colorado; Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada; Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin; Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire; Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.