Topics: CFPB

Big Brother is here to help but needs your credit card, mortgage data

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Members of the House Financial Services Committee held a Sept. 11 oversight hearing of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau featuring Richard Cordray, its recently confirmed director, as the key witness.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed in July 2010, and it birthed the CFPB. The agency's website, at its "About Us" page, declares:

"Our mission is to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans — whether they are applying for a mortgage, choosing among credit cards, or using any number of other consumer financial products."

That mission doesn't include data mining, and indeed, if you use "data mining" as a search term at the CFPB website, the search will yield, "Sorry, no results found for 'data mining.' Try entering fewer or broader query terms."

Wednesday's hearing, by contrast, revealed that the agency is doing quite a lot of data mining, an astonishing, disturbing amount of data mining, in fact. From the Washington Examiner's story by investigative reporter Richard Pollock came the news that the agency's five-year strategic plan calls for the monitoring of 80 percent of the country's annual total 1.16 billion credit card transactions and 95 percent of all mortgage transactions in the land.

This is data collection on legal domestic economic activity that is unprecedented and as chilling as the best Brad Thor novel.

"This is one step closer to a Big Brother form of government, where they know everything about us,” declared Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., at the hearing.

When Duffy raised the specter that CFPB data mining was similar to the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, Cordray took exception, and angrily retorted that “there is no comparison between the NSA and the CFPB.”

Of course we should believe him, right? The Obama administration doesn't have a credibility problem, after all, but is trusted by all to collect a mountain of data on all Americans using credit cards or refinancing their homes.

What could go wrong? After all, Edward Snowden couldn't do anything with a thumb drive and access to "protected data."

The next hearing of the House Financial Services Committee should focus on exactly what the data mining is intended to accomplish, where the data is stored and the "worst case" scenarios about the compromise or exploitation of this data.

And the House should consider attaching riders to the next continuing resolution prohibiting the agency from engaging in this sweeping dumpster dive of the citizenry's financial records.

It is almost impossible to think of a legitimate reason for the grasping overreach of the agency, but it is very possible to think of many malicious uses of such an information trove.

Such data would be extremely useful to vote-hunters, of course. A mortgage transaction will typically be accompanied by at least a year or two of tax returns to verify income, and on those returns are listed any charity the mortgage applicant supported.

Only idiots could blind themselves to the vast uses that and other bits of tax data could provide a Chicago-style machine. Not to mention the lure this vast assemblage of Social Security numbers creates for would-be identity thieves.

No doubt these stockpiles of data are at least as well protected as the State Department's most sensitive cables were from Pvt. Bradley Manning. Oh, that's right ...

The public should be as outraged as Duffy. When they learn of the programs, they will be.

HUGH HEWITT, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.
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