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CFPB Criticized for Massive Collection of Personal Data at Senate Hearing

Director Richard Corday denies broad array of personal data will be collected

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray / AP
• June 10, 2014 4:05 pm

Senators on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee criticized the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for collecting vast quantities of data on people with mortgages during a hearing Tuesday.

CFPB director Richard Corday was on the defensive during his back-and-forth with committee members regarding the National Mortgage Database.

The database is jointly run by the CFPB and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It stores information about first-lien single-family mortgages dating back to January 1998.

The criticism follows the FHFA’s April announcement of a vast expansion of the type of information collected for the database. Ranking member Sen. Mike Crapo (R., Idaho) said the collection of personal information encroaches on Americans’ privacy.

The FHFA said in its announcement that it would keep track of "name, address, zip code, telephone numbers, date of birth, race/ethnicity, gender, language, religion, social security number, education records, military status/records, employment status/records." It also said account numbers, financial events, and other payment information would be collected.

Crapo expressed concern at the broad nature of the data collection.

"I have the concern that the government collecting this phenomenal amount of data about private citizens could be used in an evasive way," Crapo said.

The FHFA said in its April notice said that the data would be used only "to support the agencies' policy making and research efforts and help regulators better understand emerging mortgage and housing market trends in this evolving and changing finance market."

Cordray denied that names, addresses, religions, and social security numbers would be included in the database. He said the data’s purpose is to better track the status of the mortgage market in an effort to prevent the possibility of a financial crisis, such as the one the nation suffered in 2008.

"The National Mortgage Database, as it’s conceived, will not include personally identifiable information such as name, address, social security number," Cordray said, adding that religion will also not be collected.

The CFPB’s data collection is one of several controversies to have swirled about the agency in recent months.

In March, racial disparities were found in the agency’s employee performance rankings. That same month, the agency was criticized for increasing its budget for renovations to its headquarters.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) brought up the renovations during the hearing and took several minutes to read a vivid description of them, which Cordray called "flowery" and "embarrassing".

"The notion that we are trying to create some palace that we don’t even own doesn’t even make any sense to me," Cordray said.