Flashback Friday: Project Director’s Video Comments Air Privacy Concerns Surrounding Federal Mortgage Database
Posted by Staff on May 16, 2014

“It is easy reverse engineer and identify the people in our database.”

“At present we are allowed to have any federal employee gain access” to the database.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling and Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo this week sent a letter to the CFPB and FHFA raising serious privacy concerns about the massive federal mortgage database the two agencies are creating.  

A recent notice in the Federal Register outlined how expansive the agencies’ database will be. Specifically, the notice proposes to vastly expand the scope of their data collection to include highly personal information that is unrelated to the purchase of a home.  For example, data fields would include one’s religion, Social Security number, education and military records, languages spoken, ages of children at home, and major life events.

At a January 28, 2014 hearing with CFPB Director Richard Cordray, the House Financial Services Committee highlighted comments from Bob Avery, the Project Director for the mortgage database.  In a video shown at the hearing, Avery says the mortgage database is vulnerable to hackers.

“It is easy to reverse engineer and identify the people in our database,” Avery is seen saying on the video.  “We have the date the mortgage was taken out, the size of the mortgage and we have the Census tract [of the mortgage holder]. Ninety-five percent of these are unique.”

Avery also said on the video that “any federal employee” at present can gain access to the mortgage database.

Wall Street Journal:  Republicans Call Federal Mortgage Database an ‘Unwarranted Intrusion’
By: Alan Zibel
May 15, 2014

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans are taking aim at a national database of mortgage information being developed by two federal regulators, arguing it doesn’t provide enough privacy protections for consumers.

The GOP lawmakers are seizing on a notice placed in the Federal Register last month, in which the Federal Housing Finance Agency detailed plans to collect a wide range of information on U.S. mortgage borrowers.

The agency, which regulates mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is creating the database along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as part of an effort to develop a better understanding of trends in the housing market.

According to the notice, regulators may collect information including borrowers’ names, address, zip code, telephone numbers, date of birth, race, gender, language, religion and social security numbers, plus detailed information on their finances.

Republicans are crying foul. The collection of such information “represents an unwarranted intrusion into the private lives of ordinary Americans, and can be easily perceived as an abuse of the trust placed in your agencies by the American people,” wrote Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and Sen. Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee in a letter sent Thursday to the leaders of both agencies

The lawmakers asked FHFA Director Mel Watt and CFPB Director Richard Cordray to justify why the agencies should college “intimate personal information about borrowers and their famiiles.” They also asked the officials to explain why information on religion should be added to the database.

The move is the latest in a series of criticisms against the CPFB by Republicans, who have questioned whether the agency provides enough data security and privacy for consumers. At the request of Mr. Crapo, the Government Accountability Office has been studying the amount of data collected by the CFPB.

The FHFA and CFPB are required under a 2008 law to collect information on home sales prices and other mortgage data, so as to make a timely database of mortgage market information available to the public.

In announcing the database project in November 2012, the agencies said they would take precautions to ensure consumers’ privacy. But Republicans question whether they agencies are truly taking enough steps to do so.

A spokeswoman for FHFA said the agency would respond to the letter. A CFPB spokesman did not immediately comment.

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