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Last Thursday—before reports of a breach of 50 million Facebook users’ dataKlobuchar and Kennedy began calls for CEOs to come before the Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today called on the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley (R-IA), to hold a hearing at which Senators can publicly question the CEOs of technology companies. The bipartisan letter follows reports that Cambridge Analytica misused the data of 50 million Facebook users. Last week—before the breach—Klobuchar and Kennedy began calls for the technology companies to come before the Judiciary Committee.

“Major social media platforms store an enormous amount of data and have a user base larger than all of the major broadcasting companies combined. The remarkable innovation that these companies have championed has changed how we share and collect information. In the process, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have amassed unprecedented amounts of personal data and use this data when selling advertising, including political advertisements. The lack of oversight on how data is stored and how political advertisements are sold raises concerns about the integrity of American elections as well as privacy rights,” the senators wrote.

“A hearing featuring testimony with CEOs would provide the Committee the opportunity to hear an update on the progress of these companies' voluntary measures to combat attempted foreign interference and what is being done to protect Americans’ data and limit abuse of the platforms, as well as to assess what measures should be taken before the next elections. It is for these reasons that we request that you announce a hearing of the Judiciary Committee at which Senators can publicly question the CEOs of technology companies.”

The letter can be read in its entirety below.

Dear Chairman Grassley:

We write to express serious concern regarding recent reports that data from millions of Americans was misused in order to influence voters, and to urge you to convene a hearing with the CEOs of major technology companies -- including Facebook, Google, and Twitter -- regarding the security of Americans’ data in light of this significant breach.

Reports indicate that private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users -- representing nearly a quarter of potential U.S. voters in 2016 -- was taken to conduct sophisticated psychological targeting for political ads in order to influence voters. The reports further indicate that Facebook knew about this breach more than two years ago and failed to acknowledge it and take swift and meaningful action. 

While Facebook has pledged to enforce its policies to protect people's information, questions remain as to whether those policies are sufficient and whether Congress should take action to protect people's private information. The Committee considered similar cybersecurity issues in an October hearing featuring testimony from the former chairman and CEO of Equifax. We believe that the Committee should revisit these issues in light of recent events and upcoming elections.

Important questions also remain unanswered about the role of these technology companies in our democracy. Major social media platforms store an enormous amount of data and have a user base larger than all of the major broadcasting companies combined. The remarkable innovation that these companies have championed has changed how we share and collect information. In the process, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have amassed unprecedented amounts of personal data and use this data when selling advertising, including political advertisements. The lack of oversight on how data is stored and how political advertisements are sold raises concerns about the integrity of American elections as well as privacy rights.

Senators from both parties have called for more transparency and accountability from social media platforms in their efforts to guard against interference by foreign actors. Testimony before this Committee and others from current Administration officials, as well as former officials from the Administrations of President George W. Bush and President Obama, has made clear that the threat of foreign interference continues to exist, and that these foreign powers will make similar attempts to interfere in future elections. 

It is our view that Senators on the Judiciary Committee should have the opportunity to question the CEOs of technology companies about these critical matters. While this Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism convened a hearing with witnesses representing Facebook, Twitter, and Google in October of 2017, we have yet to hear from the leaders of these companies directly. A hearing featuring testimony with CEOs would provide the Committee the opportunity to hear an update on the progress of these companies' voluntary measures to combat attempted foreign interference and what is being done to protect Americans’ data and limit abuse of the platforms, as well as to assess what measures should be taken before the next elections.

It is for these reasons that we request that you announce a hearing of the Judiciary Committee at which Senators can publicly question the CEOs of technology companies. We would be happy to discuss this matter with you further and we appreciate your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

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