Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
On His Privacy Amendment to the Consumer Protection Title of the
Proposed Restoring American Financial Stability Act
MR. PRESIDENT - If you think full body scans at airport security are bad, they pale in comparison to the consumer protection provision in the financial regulatory bill we’re debating here today. Even if you are OK with this heightened airport security measure, will you be OK with a full scan of your financial records?
If left alone this bill would set up a federal bureaucracy that will be able to comb through the personal financial records of millions of Americans, in the name of protecting consumers. Also in the name of protecting us from ourselves, this bill would require banks to keep and maintain records of all bank account activity and financial activity of their clients -- for at least three years, while also requiring this information be sent regularly to the Bureau for “safe keeping”. I have serious concerns about our government collecting information on the daily activities of its citizens, and equal concerns about the government approving or disapproving the financial choices of its citizens.
For those who agree with me, and even those who disagree with me on the consequences or meaning of the language in this bill, I have a straight-forward and easy solution. My amendment, #4018, simply says that if the new Bureau created in this bill wants to investigate a consumer’s individual transactions, then the Bureau must get written permission from that individual. All this means is that the Bureau can’t investigate someone’s banking activities or credit card purchases without that person’s permission. My amendment would make it so that the government can’t watch over my financial transactions without me saying so. My amendment gives consumers a choice. I don’t think the Bureau should be allowed to look over my credit card statement to see if I am spending too much money. I don’t think the Bureau should be allowed to monitor my purchases and note that I bought a new car, a new boat or a gun.
I recognize that there are consumers out there who may want the government in their lives, monitoring their transactions. I do not claim to understand that desire, but my amendment would not take away their choice in the matter. In fact, as a consumer, if I get into credit card trouble and want the Bureau’s help, all I have to do is contact the Bureau and give them permission to look at my financial documents. My amendment would give consumers that ability. As long as the Bureau has my written permission as a consumer, they can look at my financial past, present and future.
In reality, this bill encourages consumers to rely on the government to protect us from bad decisions instead of empowering due dilligence. The role of the federal government should not be to stand over our shoulders, telling us if decisions are right or good. I was here on the Senate floor just a few short days ago saying that you and I have the inherent freedom in this country to make choices, and even the freedom to make bad choices. In America that’s the way it works. Big Brother isn’t allowed to hang over your shoulder to decide for you whether you’re making a poor decision. Because of this bill and the actions of the current Administration, people are more concerned over their freedoms right now than they ever have been and this underlying bill, specifically Title Ten -- with its ironic name -- will take away these freedoms.
The Consumer Financial Protections Bureau created through this bill would suddenly become THE most powerful agency within the federal government. By placing this Bureau within the Federal Reserve, Congress’ last ability to oversee this agency would be when the Director of the Bureau is nominated by the President and the Senate vets that candidate. That’s it. Congress would have no oversight of the Bureau’s budget. Congress would have no oversight of the rules created by the Bureau either. And by the way, this Bureau would not only have the authority to create its own rules for banks and consumers to follow, they would have the authority to enforce those rules as well. No other agency has this kind of unchecked power. Let me tell you, unchecked power doesn’t lend itself to accountability either.
So why am I so concerned about the supposed Consumer Protection Bureau? I am concerned about our freedoms and I know that the federal government should not operate with the belief that it is always knows best. Protecting consumers doesn’t always mean naming advocates to work on their behalf of. It also means allowing them the freedom and power to advocate for themselves. I mentioned this earlier, but I want to illustrate an example of why I am concerned about this Bureau’s unchecked powers and why every citizen in this country should be up in arms, beating down the doors of Congress to keep big government powers from getting even bigger. The example I am about to give would be small compared with what powers the Bureau proposes, and let me tell you, this wasn’t a small issue to the public.
Not too long ago the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced their intention to put full body scanning into major airports across the country. Let me remind you that this was not even in every major airport, just a few. Many of you may not have ever even seen one of these scanning machines. Travelers go into this three-sided piece of equipment, fully-clothed and the machine essentially creates and an x-ray-like scan of the traveler. The resulting image from the scan can be used to determine if someone is carrying an explosive, has objects hidden under clothing or has just merely had a joint replaced.
This new step in security was all done in the name of protecting citizens from terrorists. This new measure was for our physical safety. And you know what? I heard from hundreds of Wyoming citizens. I heard from hundreds of citizens across the country as well—desperate not to have the government intrude into their lives, even in the name of physical safety from terrorism. There was such a rush of emotions from these folks – anger at the inconvenience and intrusion, nervousness and anxiety that the government would have an image of them for 30 seconds, or the possibility that the government could keep that scanned image in a file. I even had some of the more middle-of-the-road folks tell me that they just wanted a choice of whether to have the full body scan or simply an in-person screening.
My point with this whole story is that with TSA screening, we are talking about a single image of a person as they travel through the nation’s airports. What the Bureau of Consumer Protection proposes to do in the name of financial security is not just a snapshot of us during a single day of travel. What the Bureau proposes to do scrutinizes the transactions of our daily lives, our spending habits; monitors our financial decisions as we plan for retirement, as we plan and spend for our families and as we consumers make choices on loans for education, vehicles, homes and any other expenses. This is not a single step encroaching upon privacy like a body scan image. What the Bureau proposes to do skips over that privacy boundary. It’s not a single scan. It’s a life audit.
As I have said before, this Bureau may create some much-needed protections for consumers—but it could also go much further. Without my amendment, the Bureau will be required to collect daily, transactional information on every consumer. The government would see every time you needed money – for a college loan, or $20 from the nearest ATM.
The Bureau would require your community bank to not only keep ALL of your information on file, but to regularly share this data with our government. Some may say, “I don’t care if the government knows that I buy groceries at Safeway every Tuesday.” But I would dare say that allowing the government to assess and analyze every transaction could easily escalate beyond mundane details and consumer protection, to truly having Big Brother watching over us. You may not care about the government knowing your shopping habits or how often you fill your car with gas, but you will care when the government has the ability to say how, when and why you spend your own money. We already give the government control of how our tax dollars are spent – and I would say that isn’t going so well for us. A twelve, almost thirteen, trillion dollar deficit shows this. So why should the public be ok allowing the federal government to watch over our shoulders, saying whether our financial decisions are ok? The point is that the federal government shouldn’t have this power -- but that this bill would be giving it.
Americans have already given our government extreme amounts of power to protect us from physical harm, to protect us from terrorism. In the name of this security, there are certainly serious privacy issues raised about how much the government would be able to see into the lives of everyday citizens. I have risen today to bring light and awareness to the additional, enormous unchecked power that would be given to the Bureau and the federal government in the name of protecting consumers. This power would be given – not in the name of protecting us from physical threat or harm, but in the name of making decisions for us.
I offer another choice to my colleagues and to the people of the United States. This choice allows consumers to let the Bureau into their personal lives if they so choose. My amendment would not stop the Bureau from existing. My amendment would not prevent the Bureau from assisting consumers with their finances or debt. My amendment would simply require the Bureau to get written permission from consumers. It’s that simple. I urge my colleagues to consider the amendment I have offered so that we are empowering consumers, not perpetuating big government growth in the name of protecting us from ourselves.