December 21, 2006

Comcast Demands SSN for Cable Service

Letter to City Cable Franchise Administrator:

Today I contacted my local cable monopoly, Comcast, to purchase service. They refused to provide me service without receiving my social security number (SSN). As the local implementing agency of Comcast's federal license, I'm writing to ask that this practice be terminated.

Alternatively, please provide me with the statutory or other authority for requesting the information; whether disclosure is mandatory or voluntary; what uses will be made of the information, as required by the federal Privacy Act. (See Exhibit I below).

Because Comcast is a monopoly, the consequence of my not providing this personal information is exclusion from what has become a basic service; access to information via the local cable system. Given the leverage of their monopoly position, Comcast should not be able to demand my SSN, for which there are limitations on such requests (See Exhibit II, below).

Furthermore, I should not be required to "trust Comcast" with my private information. I do not trust Comcast, or any corporation. I have rational basis for this mistrust, given recent debacles of private information falling into the hands of identity thiefs (Veteran's Administration and ChoicePoint to name two of a growing number of examples).

When the SSN was created, the federal government promised that the number would NOT become a personal ID number. Comcast's rationale for demanding my SSN is that they want to catch people who have not paid past bills and who have moved. Comcast should not be able to demand everyone's personal information simply to eek out a few more dollars from the small number of people who have moved and failed to pay prior bills. This is not a sufficient rationale for demanding my SSN or denying me access to cable service to which they have the privilage of a monopoly franchise.

I appreciate your assistance on this matter.

Sincerely,

me

cc:

US Senators
US Congressional Representative
Baltimore City Council President
Maryland General Assembly representatives
State Attorney General's Office, Consumer Protection Division
State Public Service Commission
Comcast Corporation Headquarters
Social Security Administration, Regulatory Policy
Federal Communications Commissioners: Martin, Copps and Adelstein
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Exhibit I - Statutory or other authority for requesting the SSN information

The Privacy Act regulates the use of SSNs by government agencies. When a Federal, State, or local government agency asks an individual to disclose his or her Social Security number, the Privacy Act requires the agency to inform the person of the following: the statutory or other authority for requesting the information; whether disclosure is mandatory or voluntary; what uses will be made of the information; and the consequences, if any, of failure to provide the information.

Exhibit II - Situations where an SSN might be required

* Internal Revenue Service for tax returns and federal loans
* Employers for wage and tax reporting purposes
* States for the school lunch program
* Banks for monetary transactions
* Veterans Administration as a hospital admission number
* Department of Labor for workers’ compensation
* Department of Education for Student Loans
* States to administer any tax, general public assistance, motor vehicle or drivers license law within its jurisdiction
* States for child support enforcement
* States for commercial driver’s licenses
* States for Food Stamps
* States for Medicaid
* States for Unemployment Compensation
* States for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families
* U.S. Treasury for U.S. Savings Bonds

12 comments:

Quipper said...

Ugh! This is a bad precedent.

I work for an auto insurance company, and our customers can opt out of providing their SSN in certain states. I don't believe that is an option in all fifty states yet.

GDAEman said...

Yea, creepy.

If you really want to get creeped out about Comcast, read this:
The cable-TV beast knows more about you than your own mother and note it was written in 2003... skim down past the intro blather.

Quipper said...

The article seems a little over the top in some paragraphs, but I believe there are valid points to it.

Our local grocery store chain started their own points/rewards card several years age. Working in I.T., I know exactly why they do it. Doesn't mean I like it, though, and we opt out of data mining programs wherever possible.

The grocery store doesn't need to know my annual income, the makeup of my family, or how many times per year we buy trash bags and toothpaste. Just like Comcast doesn't need to know these things....

GDAEman said...

Response to Quipper

Yea, the article does have a style issue, i.e., over-the-top at times.

It's dangerous to our liberty when the government, or huge corporations over which we have zero influence, to create massive databases about us. The potential for abuse is huge.

The Automated Targeting System is a case in point.

A Reply from Comcast

I would like to apologize to you for the misinformation that you received from our customer service agent. Comcast does not require SSNs to catch people who owe balances and have moved.

We only require SSNs for equipment tracking. You can set up cable service without having to provide your SSN if you wont need any of our equipment such as a digital converter, dvr, high def converter or modem for the internet service. This means you would be limited to our basic expanded service, which does not require any equipment. If this service is suitable for you please give us call back. If you like you may call me directly at ....

My Reponse: Hmmm... He kinda missed my point. Could I pay a deposit on the equipment instead of providing my SSN?

Anonymous said...

Just as an update in early 2008... Comcast actually uses your SSN to validate your identity when you sign up for service over the phone or net. If you walk into a service center to get service, they just check your Driver's license. You can also get equipment for a minimal deposit, which gets rolled as a payment into your bill after six months. In my case it was $50 for a basic cable box (no DVR), and I got expanded basic and 'net access.

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Anonymous said...

Here's an update, from 2010. I managed to get comcast service without giving out my SSN or DL. I gave up on the first try (I didn't provide that chat transcript), googled a bit to figure out how to get around giving my SSN and the second try worked. Here's the relevant part of the chat transcript:

Ana>
I understand you are interested in our Digital Preferred with Performance - Special Offer for $79.99 for 6 months. Is this correct?

Calvin_>
yes

Ana>
Great Choice!

Ana>
You have reached the right person. And will be my pleasure to help with your order today.

Ana>
To process a request for service, it is our policy to verify your identity to determine if a deposit is required. This is also done for your protection to prevent service from being placed in your name without your authorization. I can assure you that our chat is secure and that your information will not be retained. May I have your SSN please?

Calvin_>
In general, I don't give out my SSN if I can avoid it. I understand comast can agree to a deposit held for 6 months of on-time payments instead of the SSN request?

Ana>
I understand your concern. To process a request for service, it is our policy to verify identity to determine if a deposit is required. This is also done for your protection to prevent service from being placed in your name without your authorization. I can assure you that our chat is secure and that your information will not be retained.

Calvin_>
that's fine. from http://customer.comcast.com/Pages/FAQViewer.aspx?seoid=What-if-I-don%27t-feel-comfortable-giving-you-my-social-security-number-for-a-credit-check-for-a-DVR-deposit , it says, If you are uncomfortable giving you SSN, we can attempt to process the credit verification using only your name and phone number.

Ana>
Well if you like you can also give me your Driver's License to determine if the deposit is required.

Calvin_>
also or instead of?

Ana>
Instead of providing the SSN

Calvin_>
alright, would you like it now then?

Ana>
Yes please Calvin

Calvin_>
Oh, wait, I just re-read what's on the comcast faq, it says you can try with my name and phone number? sorry, just trying to be secure here.

Ana>
I understand. In that case the deposit for not giving the SSN would be for $100, Would you like to make that deposit?

Calvin_>
that's fine.

Ana>
Great then, I will now proceed completing your order.

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830bc99a-8b9f-11e0-a4ed-000bcdca4d7a said...

I was just bullied into this last night, they asked for both the driver's license and the ssn. So annoyed with this practice.

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