Privacy Invasion... "We're here to help."
Ever heard of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)? Or the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)? Probably not. But if you have a mortgage on your home then chances are these groups have heard of you. And they want to get to know you better, much better.
According to a notice posted on April 16, 2014 in the Federal Register, the FHFA will be gathering and maintaining personal information as part of the “National Mortgage Database Project”. Sounds harmless. Whose data will be collected? According to the notice, “individuals who have records in… credit bureaus or consumer reporting agencies”, which includes just about anyone with a wallet or a purse. Estimates are that 227 million Americans will be effected. The justification for compiling this information is to facilitate the FHFA / CFPB’s ability to comply with reporting requirements under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA), legislation brought in response to the sub-prime mess of 2008.
The database will include mortgage information, such as loan amount, monthly payment, delinquency information. But that’s not all. It also includes information of a more personal nature. What sort of personal information? Generally speaking, everything. Info you don’t tell your mama.
Altogether the Database Project includes about eighty-five fields of information (the entire list is included below). Here are some of the more troubling items: “race, ethnicity, language, religion.” What? How does being a Presbyterian or an Animist affect a person’s credit? Further overreach, “household composition (i.e. single female), number of children and their ages, marital status.” Is this the government or a dating site? More, household income, credit score, number of bedrooms and baths.” And my personal favorite, “latitude and longitude”, which I guess is a big help if someone needs to dial up a drone strike.
The information will be obtained from "individuals who respond to the National Survey of Mortgage Borrowers" as well as FHFA system records, Federal government systems of records (IRS?), credit repository files and "commercial data aggregators".
Who will have access to all this information? No worries – all of the information is protected under the Privacy Act. According to the notice, only the Federal Housing Finance Administration, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and their advisory committees have access. Oh, and perhaps a contractor, volunteer or intern working for those agencies. And a Congressional office in response to an inquiry. Or a court, magistrate or administrative tribunal in the course of an investigation. And possibly the Department of Justice, which would include the US Attorney, FBI, DEA, etc. And of course, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or “other Federal agencies”. In George Orwell’s “1984”, Big Brother's fascist regime referred to its propaganda and history revision bureau as the “Ministry of Truth”. Similarly, in 2010 under Dodd-Frank, the CFBP was created ostensibly to “protect consumers”. Call me paranoid, but why exactly does the federal government need to know how many bathrooms I have? Or what the credit limit is on my MasterCard? The longitude and latitude of my home? My employment records? A list of my assets? Or my religious affiliation? The legal definition of invasion of privacy is the intrusion into the personal life of another without cause. If that's the standard ofinvasion, then this action against 277 million Americans constitutes a Normandy-style frontal assault. How does this new database protect the consumer? Ronald Reagan put it this way, “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”
The following is the full list of the data points included in the federal notice for the National Mortgage Database Project:
date of birth
social security number
financial events in the last few years
life events in the last few years
current monthly payment
Credit card/other loan information
account balance amount
account past due amount
account minimum payment amount
account actual payment amount
account high balance amount
account charge off amount
single male / single female, etc.
presence of children by various age categories
number of wage earners in household
number of bedrooms and bathrooms
year built/age of structure
units in structure
most recent assessed value (per tax roll)
year of most recent assessed value
effective age of structure
assessor's parcel number
Real Estate Transaction Attributes
occupancy status (own, rent)
new versus existing home
mortgage product and purpose
amount of mortgage
amount of down payment
term of mortgage
interest rate of mortgage
source of mortgage/mortgage channel
mortgage insurance type
loan to value at origination
origination amount/credit limit
debt to income ratio at origination
number of borrowers
number of units in mortgage
presence of prepayment penalty
origination points paid by borrower
discount points paid by borrower
balloon payment date/amount
percent of down payment
secondary market indicator
Information collected from consumers as part of
randomized controlled trials
or through other mechanisms.