CFPB's Data-Mining on Consumer Credit Cards Challenged in Heated House Hearing

Article excerpt

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau officials are seeking to monitor four out of every five U.S. consumer credit card transactions this year -- up to 42 billion transactions - through a controversial data-mining program, according to documents obtained by the Washington Examiner.

A CFPB strategic planning document for fiscal years 2013-17 describes the "markets monitoring" program through which officials aim to monitor 80 percent of all credit card transactions in 2013.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 1.16 billion consumer credit cards were in use in 2012 for an estimated 52.6 billion transactions. If CFPB officials reach their stated "performance goal," they would collect data on 42 billion transactions made with 933 million credit cards used by American consumers.

In addition, CFPB officials hope to monitor up to 95 percent of all mortgage transactions, according to the planning document.

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

At a Wednesday hearing before the House Financial Services Committee chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, CFPB Director Richard Cordray defended the data-mining practice and said his agency is monitoring credit card usage at 110 banks, including Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover and American Express.

In a related development, Rep. Spencer Bachus, Hensarling's predecessor on the House Financial Services Committee, told the Examiner he believes CFPB violated at least two federal laws by using the impartial U.S. Trustee Program to gather bankruptcy data as part of the data-mining campaign.

The Examiner reported Monday that bankruptcy experts are concerned that CFPB is undermining the trustee program's independence and impartiality. The trustee program is the federal government's main administrative agency for handling bankruptcy cases.

Bachus also told the Examiner after Wednesday's hearing that a key House subcommittee is planning hearings on possible CFPB abuse of the bankruptcy trustee.

"The bankruptcy and anti-trust subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee is investigating this as we speak, and we anticipate a notice of a hearing on this in the near future," Bachus said.

The Dodd-Frank Act, which established CFPB, bars the bureau from collecting personally identifiable financial information on consumers and prohibits it from regulating practicing attorneys.

Bachus said Cordray "exceeded his authority" and violated both provisions if he tried to use the trustee program to obtain files from a company that maintains a document archive for thousands of bankruptcy case attorneys.

"He [Cordray] basically said to me, 'We needed to do this. This was something we thought we ought to do.' He never said, 'OK, it probably violates two provisions of the law,' a very clear 'Do not do this,' " Bachus said.

Bachus said CFPB may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, which entitles Americans to be free from government interference or intrusion in dealing with their legal representation.

"They are challenging through their actions, one of the most basic freedoms guaranteed by our forefathers and that is the right to counsel," he said. …