Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo held a Boise press conference today to press his concern about collection of consumer financial data by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an issue on which he’s requested a GAO investigation that’s now under way. Crapo acknowledged that the CFPB has been at the center of partisan battling in Congress and that he opposed its formation, preferring to keep regulation of consumer finances with that of the safety and soundness of banks and other financial institutions; Crapo, the ranking minority member of the Senate banking committee, lost that fight.
But he said revelations of the amount of consumer financial data the new agency is tracking should be of concern to all, particularly in light of concerns over NSA tracking of phone calls and other federal agencies’ use of data about Americans. The CFPB has “very, very little political oversight,” Crapo said. “It has the ability to run its own agenda. … This agency is run by a single individual.”
Crapo was joined at his Idaho Capitol news conference by fellow Idaho Sen. Jim Risch; Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group from Washington, D.C.; and John Zarian, a Boise attorney who handled major California litigation over misuse of personal credit report data by Trans Union Corp.
Zarian warned of the dangers of identity theft and fraud from misuse and security breaches of individuals’ data; Fitton told of how Judicial Watch pressed Freedom of Information Act requests to find out the extent of the data the bureau was collecting on 5 million Americans. Crapo said although the CFPB says it is not collecting data that identifies individuals – “personally identifiable” financial information on consumers, which the law creating the agency forbids gathering – the scope of its data collection could lead to that. “This agency was created to watch out for Americans, not to watch Americans,” Crapo declared.
Wasden said, “Privacy in this day and age is a valid concern.” He praised Crapo for raising the alarm, and said the GAO investigation should show “whether CFPB’s data collection and use of that data is lawful.”
The agency has said it is collecting data so it can track fraud to protect consumers; it’s also developed a database of consumer complaints about a variety of financial services, from credit cards to mortgages to credit reporting, and posted that online for public use. Risch said, “If you like government, you will love this agency.” Fitton said, “For all the noise in Washington about the NSA, our real damages in Washington as far as privacy abuse resides in the Consumer Financial Protection Board.”