CFPB chief questioned on data collection

Republican lawmakers put the country’s top consumer finance watchdog back on the hot seat over his agency’s collection of data about as many as 900 million credit card accounts.

Multiple Republicans on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee questioned Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayDemocrats blast consumer bureau over student loan oversight agreement with DeVos Consumer bureau chief explains support for lawsuit limiting her power New Warren ad touts Obama's 2010 praise for consumer bureau MORE on Tuesday about the credit card data that his agency collects and monitors to regulate the consumer finance marketplace.

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“The fact is that you are collecting data on individual credit card accounts,” Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), the panel’s top Republican, told Cordray.

Cordray has repeatedly defended the agency from the charges. The CFPB collects mostly anonymous data to track broad trends in the financial market, he said, not to monitor individuals’ private information.

“I don’t care about any individual and we’re not tracing anybody’s credit card spending of any sort,” he said on Tuesday.

Instead, the data “help us to establish patterns of how institutors are treating their customers. They’re not about how any individual customer decides how to use their credit cards.”

Plus, he said, the credit card information the CFPB collects is the same as what is used by major financial institutions and other regulatory agencies to track the market. 

That didn't satisfy Crapo. 

“As I’ve gotten into this I’ve realized that there are actually other federal regulators seeking access to the same information,” he said. “I understand that. That does not necessarily make it OK.”

Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) also questioned Cordray about details of his agency's data collection practices. 

Almost all information that goes to the CFPB is wiped clean of any personally identifiable details, Cordray said. Information submitted from consumer complaints and obtained as part of the agency’s supervision of financial institutions may contain personal information.

But Crapo worried that before information goes to the CFPB it is routed through a third-party contractor, where it is scrubbed of personal details.

“As that data is collected, it is not anonymous and it is not de-identified. It is the whole story,” he said.

“The fact is, as I see it, that all is necessary for this phenomenal amount of data that’s being collected on Americans to be made available is for someone to unlock the key that the third party contractor has put in place,” Crapo said. 

-- This story was updated at 6:13 p.m. to clarify the nature of the questions from Sens. Vitter and Corker.