While the National Security Agency’s data collection practices are the subject of heated debate, most Americans have no idea the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is quietly assembling a massive stockpile of consumer financial records. Though it’s still a relatively young federal agency, the CFPB has already collected information on 87 percent of the credit card market and on more than 173 million loans.
So how safe is the CFPB keeping your personal data? Last week, a Congressional committee held a hearing tackling that question and examining problems with the bureau’s data collection practices.
Data security is a huge problem for the federal government. Breaches at the IRS and Office of Personnel Management compromised the personal information (including social security numbers) of over 20 million people. Despite the threat to consumers, the Federal Reserve’s Inspector General found multiple security deficiencies in the CFPB’s data security procedures.
If a breach were to occur, consumers would have no idea if their data was compromised. The agency doesn’t reveal what data it collects or how it uses the data, and it fails to notify individual consumers their information has been collected. As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich testified before the committee, “these secretive and intrusive data-gathering operations are taking place without consumers’ knowledge and without the ability for consumers to opt-out.”
Other witnesses highlighted the threat to Americans’ civil liberties. Dr. Mark Calabria, Director of Financial Regulation Studies at the Cato Institute, testified: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s data collection activities run afoul of our Fourth Amendment protections. These extensive data collections are in no way necessary for the CFPB to achieve its statutory mission. Such could be accomplished in a manner that does not offend the Fourth Amendment, while also allowing the CFPB to fulfill its consumer protection responsibilities. I would also remind the Subcommittee that the risks deriving from the CFPB’s data collection efforts are also present at other financial regulators as well.”
Unfortunately, since the CFPB isn’t truly accountable to Congress, it’s unlikely the agency will reform its practices in the near future.