The National Security Agency (NSA), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Treasury routinely collect detailed information about Americans’ activities, communications and financial status. The scale and scope of information government keeps on us is outrageous and dangerous.
Edward Snowden’s revelation confirmed that NSA stores metadata on our domestic phone calls and has technically unfettered access to calls and emails, if one end of the conversation is offshore. No technical barriers restrain the NSA and, with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) in place, the court routinely grants it any request for more data or to eavesdrop whenever NSA mentions “terrorism.”
The US Treasury monitors international financial transactions, choking money laundering and terrorist activity. It is unclear from Treasury’s website if there is a monetary threshold that triggers investigation, but Iran’s plight suggests Treasury is effective with big items.
Newcomer CFPB wants to be as scary as the traditional spooks. It is working with the Federal Housing Finance Agency to collect a database of the 53 million residential mortgages issued since 1998. In its own database, CFPB stores detail for 991 million American credit cards. Each month CFPB’s credit card contractor updates zip code, credit limit, credit card ID, balance and much more – the stuff of hackers’ dreams. No explanation has been offered for how these high-risk databases protect Americans, yet the catastrophe from their public exposure is crystal clear.
Edward Snowden and Chelsea/Bradley Manning proved that government’s ability to protect secrets is laughable. It seems any “cleared” government employee or employee of a contractor with a hostile political agenda can launch our next calamity. Despite Richard Cordray’s huffing about security, history proves mountains of personal or secret data can leave government control. Half-smart criminals can reverse engineer the data into identity thefts and a lifetime of ill-gotten rewards.
This is not hard to understand. There are obvious risks from CFPB stockpiling so much personally identifiable data, but no overwhelming benefits flow from CFPB’s collection and analysis.
NSA’s mission is protecting us from proven murderous foreign attackers. CFPB’s mission is to protect us from unfair pricing and aggressive sales. Since NSA’s authority to collect data it needs is being cut back, CFPB’s authority to collect personal data should also be scaled back — with a meat cleaver.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research