Protest from Older Americans Leads to Dumping of Social Security’s New Cell Phone Security Plan

Saturday, August 20, 2016
Sens. Claire McCaskill and Susan Collins (photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images)


By Ann Carrns, New York Times


Never mind — at least, for now.


That’s what the Social Security Administration told those with online “mySocialSecurity” accounts, two weeks after announcing that they would be required to have cellphones to receive security code texts in order to log on to the accounts.


Social Security recipients can use the online accounts to manage their benefits, such as selecting a bank account for automatic deposit. Workers who don’t yet receive benefits can use the accounts to obtain estimates of future benefits and to check their earnings statements to make sure the estimates are based on correct information.


After an outcry from older Americans, as well as a letter from two U.S. senators, the agency backed off the cellphone-based code requirement.


“Our aggressive implementation inconvenienced or restricted access to some of our account holders,” said a statement emailed by an agency spokesman, Mark Hinkle. “We are listening to the public’s concerns and are responding by temporarily rolling back this mandate.”


The change means users can log on to their online “mySocialSecurity” accounts as before, with just a username and password. If they want, they can choose the text option as added security feature, as has been the case since the accounts were first offered in 2012.


The agency made text codes mandatory on July 30, saying it was doing so to comply with an executive order requiring federal agencies to upgrade their online security. The codes served as a type of multifactor authentication, in which information beyond a user name and password is used to help protect sensitive personal information online. Many banks and online services offer text verification.


But many people, especially older ones, complained that the requirement was unreasonable; fewer older Americans use cellphones, and some said they found texting difficult. In addition, technical glitches hampered access to the site, even for users with texting capability.


On Aug. 12, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the ranking minority member, wrote to the Social Security Administration to express concern. While they understood the rationale for the change, they said, methods for stronger fraud protection “must be considered relative to the needs and circumstances of the target population.”


On Aug. 13, the Social Security Administration removed the texting requirement and said it planned to introduce alternative authentication options, in addition to texting, within the next six months.


To Learn More:

Cell Phone Texting Now a Requirement for Online Social Security Account Access (by Ann Carns, New York Times)


Leave a comment