GAO: Nothing unusual in CFPB data collection

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) collection of massive reams of data pertaining to private financial transactions is above board and generally in line with the practices at other regulatory agencies, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded.

The CFPB’s data gathering programs have come under fire from conservatives, who warn that the agency is trampling on the privacy rights of ordinary Americans.

However, the 3-year-old board, which has emerged as a favorite punching bag for congressional Republicans, is far from alone, according to a new GAO report issued Monday.

“Other regulators, such as the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, collect similarly large amounts of data,” investigators found.

The GAO examined a dozen large data-collection efforts under way at the CFPB, ranging from information contained in roughly 11,000 consumer arbitration case records to 173 million mortgage loans.

Of the 12 projects analyzed, three involve the collection of information that identifies individual consumers, the GAO found. However, CFPB officials note there is no legal restriction against collecting the data.

Further, the GAO concluded that the CFPB has taken steps to “protect and secure” the data it collects. The agency has developed a system to consider statutory limits and privacy implications of their data collection efforts, and has a process for “anonymizing” the material involving identifiable individuals.

“The report puts to rest the idea that CFPB has been improperly using consumers’ personal financial data,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said.

Republicans disagreed, pointing to a series of 12 GAO recommendations intended to further safeguard sensitive information at the CFPB’s disposal.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, who championed legislation requiring the GAO study, said the shear magnitude of the data being collected at the consumer board is enough to warrant concern.

“It seems the CFPB is trying to out-NSA the NSA when it comes to accumulating information on Americans,” Hensarling said. “This is, without a doubt, an unwarranted and shocking intrusion into the privacy of American citizens.”