Both agencies on the defensive over “data mining” offensives
It’s been a long, sweaty summer for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Security Agency, two groups entrusted with protecting Americans. It seems recent revelations about what these agencies are really up to have left many citizens feeling a skosh more violated than protected.
The CFPB is facing a major lawsuit challenging its data mining efforts – not to mention the very constitutionality of the agency itself. The CFPB, which essentially answers to no one and writes its own rules, is being sued by Connecticut attorney Kimberly Pisinski and Morgan Drexen Integrated Systems, a provider of back-office administrative support services to businesses and attorneys, such as Pisinski. Among other concerns, the complaint accuses the CFPB of attempting to seize the private bankruptcy documents of thousands of struggling American consumers. According to a recent court filing by Pisinski and Morgan Drexen:
“CFPB has also substantially burdened Morgan Drexen’s business by demanding that it produce documents that are protected by the attorney-client privilege. These documents include the private notes by attorneys of their communications with clients. Morgan Drexen maintains these documents for its business partners (attorneys like Pisinski), who expect that their client’s confidences and privileges will be honored. CFPB’s demands present Morgan Drexen with a Hobson’s choice: either produce the confidential data (thus violating Morgan Drexen’s ethical obligations and harming its client relationships) or refuse to produce the documents and face CFPB retribution. Plaintiffs have standing to challenge this demand.” (court filings can be viewed at http://morgandrexenvscfpb.com/filings/.)
Pisinski and Morgan Drexen are not alone in their condemnation of the CFPB. Several members of Congress have expressed concern, bordering on outrage, at the agency’s data-gathering tactics.
“The Bureau is monitoring up to 900 million credit card accounts, and it has spent more than $20 million to collect and analyze this data,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. “We do not know exactly what information is being collected or how it is being used; the agency has been evasive in its answers to questions from Congress.”
In response to Crapo’s concerns, the Government Accountability Office has launched an investigation into the CFPB’s data-mining program.
The CFPB’s summer doldrums don’t end there. Alarm bells recently sounded after it was revealed that the agency’s former deputy director, Raj Date, set up a private lending firm that also happens to employ five other former CFPB officials. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) and four colleagues accuse Date and his cohorts of attempting to profit from the same mortgage-lending rules they helped design while with the CFPB.
Meanwhile, over at the National Security Agency (NSA), the summer of ’13 is also proving to be quite memorable for all the wrong reasons. The Edward Snowden saga not only revealed some uncomfortable truths about domestic surveillance, but may have inadvertently rekindled the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. So, yeah, kind of a big deal.
While most rational Americans assumed and accepted that there was some level of domestic surveillance going on (we have to find terrorists somehow), few appreciated the full scope of what’s really happening. The New York Times just revealed that the NSA is searching the contents of virtually every email that comes into or goes out of the United States – without a warrant – a possible violation of the Fourth Amendment. In other words, if you emailed a colleague in Europe, a relative in Central America, or a friend in Canada, chances are the NSA made a copy of that email and looked it over for anything “suspicious.”
Many Americans might even be ok with that, if it weren’t for the puzzling doublespeak. President Obama recently told Jay Leno that the United States does not have a domestic spying program. A curious comment that clearly relies on a watered-down definition of the word “spying.” Even a former special adviser to the president mocked the statement.
“Everybody knows I love this president, but this is ridiculous,” said Van Jones during a recent CNN interview. “First of all, we do have a domestic spying program, and what we need to be able to do is figure out how to balance these things, not pretend like there’s no balancing to be done.”
President Obama has ordered the creation of a special independent committee to review America’s high-tech spying programs.
In the meantime, the NSA and CFPB will continue to sweat out the hot, uncomfortable summer of 2013. The good news: football season is almost here.