By Sonia Gill
Smart and effective consumer protection is preconditioned on the availability of data and information. For this reason, Public Citizen – and numerous leading consumer and privacy groups – strongly support robust and purposeful data collection and analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The CFPB’s consumer financial data collection practices allow it to monitor emerging market trends and business practices that are harmful to consumers and to respond in an effective and proportional manner – in other words, to fulfill the pro-consumer mission created for the agency by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Not all are on board. Despite being the only federal agency dedicated to protecting the average American consumer from the abusive and unfair business practices of the financial industry, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations dedicated its last hearing of 2015 to attacking the CFPB for purported consumer privacy risks associated with the CFPB’s collection and analysis of consumer data. In yet another attempt to discredit the work of the CFPB, the subcommittee dusted off time-tested, paranoia-inducing talking points and catapulted a series of accusations at the CFPB ranging from the fantastical – likening the CFPB to an NSA-style spy agency, secretly collecting personal information from unsuspecting Americans – to the conceivable, such as potential cyberattacks against the CFPB that might result in data breaches.
While this last concern is at least a plausible one, the reality is that political opponents of the CFPB are looking for ways to stifle the agency to protect their friends on Wall Street (friends who happen to donate generously to their reelection campaigns). These legislators are smart enough to understand the exceptional importance of data to enforce federal consumer financial law and inform the agency’s actions. By blocking access to information, they know they can cripple the CFPB’s ability to hold financial fraudsters accountable.