A secretive data collection program run by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau allows private contractors access to millions of Americans’ personal financial information, according to a government accountability group.
The information may also be shared with other federal agencies.
Documents obtained by Washington-based Judicial Watch through the Freedom of Information Act illustrate the cost and scope of the program, which business groups and some Republican lawmakers have assailed as invasive and potentially illegal.
The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported how the CFPB compelled banks to comply with the program by making successful passage of routine inspections conditional on supplying massive amounts of their customers’ financial information. The new documents shed light on what happens to that data once banks have turned it over.
Multiple credit reporting agencies and accounting firms signed contracts with the bureau in 2012 to gather, store and analyze mountains of data on Americans’ credit card transactions. One company, Argus Information and Advisory Services, was paid $2.9 million last year to perform such tasks, with a total payout of $15 million scheduled for 2017.
Experian, another information services group, was tasked with assembling a “nationally representative panel of credit information on consumers” from “a national database of credit files.” The contract states that the panel will include the contents of 5 million consumer accounts along with their credit scores, postal code, age and year of birth.
The panel will initially contain ten years’ worth of individual consumer information, will be updated quarterly and will periodically add new credit files from the CFPB’s growing national database. The contract is worth almost $8.5 million.
A final company, Deloitte Consulting, is being paid nearly $5 million to provide software and computer instruction related to the program.
“When you’re trying to snoop into the files of millions, it’s expensive,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, in an interview with TheDC News Foundation.
Another document states that contractors “may be required by the CFPB to share credit card data collected from the Banks with additional government entities,” raising the prospect that personal financial information may be sent to one or more unspecified federal agencies.
“Who knows where else they’re sending [the data] to?” said Fitton. “There’s talk about tying it to mortgage data, so they might be sharing with the Federal Housing Finance Agency.”
The Experian contract says that the information is being collected “for use in a wide range of policy research projects,” echoing CFPB Director Richard Cordray’s April 23 contention that the data will be used only to help “inform policy decisions.”
Fitton, however, believes the program is not only wasteful but a threat to financial security. “This data can only be managed by hiring scores of contractors and outside government entities to analyze it,” he said. “When you widen the circle, you lessen security. It would not surprise me if in a year or two we hear about some contractor running off with this data.”
“The NSA stuff is almost a sideshow compared to the financial information that the government’s compiling,” he concluded.