No warrants and no probable cause have been no problem for the Obama administration in its work to collect detailed financial information on millions of Americans, according to a new report.
Wait, you say, wasn’t the Obama administration already collecting details about phone calls? Yup. And the content of prayers of Christian groups? Affirmative. And how about the phone records of reporters? Yes, again.
But none of that has slowed the administration’s strategy to collect – without warrants – detailed data about how Americans spend their money, use their credit and pay their bills.
The documents confirming the effort were released today by Judicial Watch, the Washington watchdog organization that tracks down, investigates and presses for prosecution of federal crimes.
“The Obama administration’s warrantless collection of the private financial information of millions of Americans is mind-blowing. Is there anything that this administration thinks it can’t do?” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
“These documents show that the Consumer Financial Protection Board is an out-of-control government agency that threatens the fundamental privacy and financial security of Americans. This is every bit as serious as the controversy over the NSA’s activities.”
It was the National Security Agency that was revealed to have been collecting data without warrants on the phone calls of millions of Americans.
Judicial Watch said it acquired through a Freedom of Information Act procedure records revealing some of the government’s recent work.
The report said the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has spent millions of dollars for “the warrantless collection and analysis of Americans’ financial transactions.”
It explains the fine print also calls for CFPB contractors, who may have that information, “may be required to share the information with ‘additional government entities.’”
The watchdog organization began its search for the records following CFPB chief Richard Cordray’s appearance before the Senate Banking Committee in April.
Among other things, it found that the board, authorized by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform plan, wants large amounts of credit information from millions of consumers, reportedly for a number of “policy research projects.”
The broad outline states: “The panel shall include 5 million consumers, and joint borrowers, co-signers, and authorized users. The initial panel shall contain 10 years of historical data on a quarterly basis.”
The documents claim that the identities will be “masked,” but ages, birth dates and census block numbers are to be included.
Fitton told U.S. News that the government plans are a “more direct assault on American citizens’ reasonable [expectation] of privacy than the gathering of general phone records.”
Judicial Watch also said it found contracts that overlapped, so that several credit reporting agencies and accounting firms would gather, store and share credit card data. Those companies included Deloitte Consulting, Experian and others.
It found an $8.4 million deal with Experian was “to track daily consumer habits of select individuals without their awareness or consent.”
The government admitted that the contractors would, “in performing this requirement … obtain access to non-public, confidential information, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), or proprietary information.”
The government documents themselves say: “The initial sample shall be drawn from current records and historical data appended for that sample as well as additional samples during the intervening years to make the combines sample representative at each point in time.”
Among the goals, according to the government, was to “maintain” detailed “credit information” on Americans.
“The central mission of the CFPB is to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans – whether they are applying for a mortgage, choosing among credit cards, or using any number of other consumer financial products,” the government said.
While the government agency said data collecting procedures are authorized by the Dodd-Frank law, it does use “anonymized industry data.”
“The bureau is not receiving data about individual purchase transactions nor are we receiving any personally identifiable information,” the agency told U.S. News.