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PolitiFact: Duffy's claims on financial monitoring are half true

The statement

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is "collecting financial information, monitoring financial information of millions of Americans" without their knowledge and "storing it for up to 10 years."

Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., July 17 in an interview

The ruling

Seizing on revelations that the National Security Agency has been scooping up the phone and Internet communications of ordinary Americans, Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., is sounding alarms about citizen surveillance by another relatively new government agency.

Duffy recently invoked the National Security Agency in making his attack on another government bureaucracy, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"The CFPB is collecting financial information, monitoring financial information, of millions of Americans, and they have no clue that it's going on. It's again this NSA push of having more information on more Americans," Duffy told the Wall Street Journal.

"We know in politics, oftentimes people will sample data, to see what the president's approval rating is or disapproval rating is," he added. "The CFPB could do the same thing to find out information about financial transactions. But instead of sampling data, they're actually collecting it and storing it for up to 10 years. This is absolutely crazy."

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which launched in July 2011, is charged with protecting consumers from abusive practices in financial services and regulating the terms of mortgages, student loans, credit cards and other transactions.

The law creating the bureau prohibits it from collecting data "for purposes of gathering or analyzing the personally identifiable financial information of consumers."

But that doesn't mean personally identifiable information isn't being collected.

Suspicion about the bureau's work ratcheted up in April, when Bloomberg News reported it was demanding records from banks and was buying anonymous information about at least 10 million consumers from various companies.

The article said the bureau was paying the Experian credit-monitoring company up to $8.4 million to provide data on 5 million to 10 million consumers. The bureau was also buying auto loan information from the company and payday loan data from another credit-reporting company, the article said.

So, the first part of Duffy's claim is accurate.

But what about the rest of Duffy's message, which suggests the bureau keeps financial data on actual individuals, monitors it and stores it for up to 10 years?

A week before Duffy made his claim, the House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit held a hearing specifically to examine how the CFPB collects and uses consumer data. Duffy is a member of the committee.

The bureau's acting deputy director, Steven Antonakes, testified that the bureau's data collection on individuals is very limited.

The bureau collects personally identifiable information only when consumers are seeking help with a complaint against a business, he said, or when "we're using our supervisory tool, conducting examinations of the banks, the credit unions and the nonbanks under our jurisdiction."

When Duffy asked about news indicating the bureau was buying information about at least 10 million consumers, Antonakes replied: "Congressman, we're not monitoring any individual American. We're collecting broad data on markets to understand how varied markets work."

We put Duffy's claim to Bradley Jansen, director of the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights in Washington, which says it defends privacy, civil liberties and market economics, and Florida lawyer Justin Angelo, who represents banks and other businesses that are regulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

They said the bureau has collected and is monitoring financial data involving millions of Americans, but that's not the same as monitoring the financial activity of individuals.

So while the bureau is collecting information, even 10 years' worth of some data, there's no real evidence it is monitoring it on the individual level.

As such, we rate this claim Half True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Duffy's claims on financial monitoring are half true 08/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 3:21pm]
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