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Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
On His Privacy Amendment to the Consumer Protection Title of the
Proposed Restoring American Financial Stability Act
May 2010
 
MR. PRESIDENT -- I rise today to explain to my colleagues, but more specifically the American people, why the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is so incredibly wrong for our nation.  I will explain why the Dodd amendment is worse than the underlying bill – because it tries to trick the people with its promise of privacy and at the same time uses weasel words to comb through our personal lives anyway.  I will lay out for you how the federal government will be watching over our shoulders, with freedoms just keep slipping away a little at a time. 

The underlying bill and Dodd amendment both use slippery, slight of words, but this isn’t some magic trick that will suddenly disappear.  No my friends, this would be the sickest joke you could imagine.

I proposed an amendment to protect consumer privacy and give each of us a choice in how little or much personal financial data the federal government and this Bureau would be able to access.  My amendment very simply prevents Big Brother from looking over your shoulder on a daily basis at your personal financial records.
 
Rather than fixing this problem, Senator Dodd’s side-by-side amendment #4082 makes the government intrusion worse.  Dodd’s privacy amendment doesn’t do anything to stop the so-called Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from snooping whenever they want.  In fact, your bank will have to keep your records three years and SEND them to this federal bureaucracy without oversight or controls and would be required to send this information on a - quote - regular basis - end quote, whatever “regular” means. 
 
I stand before you today to educate the people of America about the fallacies in this underlying bill.  I stood before you a few days ago, saying that I recognize some consumers out there may want the government in their lives, monitoring their transactions.  I still do not claim to understand that desire, but my amendment would not take away their choice in the matter.  In fact, my amendment would allow me 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 myself and give them permission to look at my financial documents.   My amendment would give consumers that ability and personal option.  As long as the Bureau has my written permission as a consumer, they can look at my financial past, present and future. 
 
I am adamantly opposed to the Dodd “privacy” amendment.  It paves the way for a radical shift away from your right to privacy.  I hope you will take the few seconds necessary to read the two-page Democratic side-by-side to my privacy amendment.  If you do, you will instantly note the weasel words in the Dodd amendment.  His amendment, and the underlying bill, promotes yet another government takeover of yet another portion of our lives.  They want to take over how we spend our money.  The American people have had enough government takeovers already, and I don’t think that they will stand for the federal government accessing one more facet of our lives.
 
Although I respect my colleague from Connecticut, his version of sham privacy would actually encourage a take-over of your finances – behind your back, or “merely” in the name of protecting us from ourselves.  A third of this bill is devoted to snooping into your personal records. This bill was supposed to be about regulating Wall Street; instead it’s creating a Google Earth of your every financial transaction.  That’s right – the government will be able to see every detail from the 50,000 foot perspective or they can look right down to the tiny details of the time and place where you pulled cash out of an ATM.  The real kicker is that despite claiming the Dodd amendment creates privacy protection, it doesn’t do anything to stop this snooping into individuals’ lives.
 
Yesterday I read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer from Senator Rick Santorum, a former colleague of mine from Pennsylvania.  In this article, he talks about the lack of reform in the housing markets and more specifically how the greatest contributors to the collapse of the housing market -- the GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—have gone untouched and unreformed in this bill.  The bill even leaves their $800 billion dollar spending ability intact. 
 
So he then asks – if Fannie and Freddie have gone untouched and this entire bill was meant to rein in Wall Street – “What is in the 1,565-page financial-reform bill that's up for a vote this week in the Senate?”

He says quote – “My favorite among the bill's assaults on free enterprise - and, more important, individual liberty - is the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This latest concept to come from the Obama Administration's ivory-tower types is not your run-of-the-mill bureaucracy.  The theory behind it is behavioral regulation.”  Let’s talk about that a little more--- behavioral regulation is studying human behavior, interactions and habits --- such as how we spend our money, go about our daily lives --- so humans can be better governed, ruled or controlled.  You can pick your verb, but no matter what, this “behavioral regulation” sets up the government to interject and use its strong arm in our daily financial transactions.

To continue with the Senator’s article, he says, “The academic-turned-bureaucrat who came up with the bureau is Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr, who has penned such articles as ‘Behaviorally Informed Financial Services Regulation.’  Wonder what might be in store? Think czar for checking accounts and credit cards. According to Barr (himself), ‘... regulatory choice ought to be analyzed according to the market's stance toward human fallibility.’  That's right: He thinks our market-based economy is composed of businesses designed to bilk people by exploiting their flaws.  I assume his research shows that government bureaucrats don't share that human fallibility.”

“How would the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau come to know you and what financial products are best for you? It would be given the power to collect information on businesses and individuals.  It would even be able to require you to answer questions under oath about your personal finances.” 

“Barr and his nanny-state administration colleagues are working to require that some banks "geo-code" deposits to allow tracking of their origins and provide other information about their accounts. Think Google Earth for all our personal financial transactions.  I hope the data are more secure than the Department of Veterans Affairs.’
“While the president has deceptively characterized this debate as being about Wall Street vs. Main Street, congressional Democrats have refused to police their side of the street - Fannie and Freddie. Instead, they continue to defy public opinion and push a bill that will further expand government, invade our privacy, and assume even more control over our lives.” End quote.

Think about this – the federal government would now be allowed to collect all kinds of financial data about consumers, not just about potentially deceptive practices or even shady Wall Street actions, but more specifically monitoring how we as consumers do our banking, how and why we purchase products, where and when we pull $20 out of the ATM.  I ask you, how does this snooping into our daily personal lives protect consumers?  This bill was sold to the public as a way to rein in Wall Street, but near as I can tell, it’s the perfect excuse for Big Brother to worm his way even further into our lives and our privacy.

I now want to read you two paragraphs of the underlying Dodd bill.  These paragraphs are from the mis-named “Consumer Protection” Title Ten.  On page 1239 – that’s Section 1022 (c)(4)(B), it says, “the Bureau may: (B) require persons to file with the Bureau, under oath or otherwise, in such form and within such reasonable period of time as the Bureau may prescribe, by rule or order, annual or special reports, or answers in writing to specific questions, furnishing such information as the Bureau may require;”
 
So to interpret, the Bureau would both write and enforce its own rules so it could decide that not only would you have to disclose your financial information under oath, there are simply no limits or checks to how much more the Bureau could require. The paragraph I just read says the Bureau could gather and comb through your financial information –quote “as the Bureau may require” end quote.
 
Continuing on to the following paragraph (C) on page 1240, “The Bureau may: make public such information obtained by the Bureau under this section, as is in the public interest in reports or otherwise in the manner best suited for public information and use.
 
In case you missed the implications of this, I will spell it out further.  Not only could the Bureau have the power under this bill to make consumers testify under oath, the Bureau could then publish any or all information they have gathered about consumers and publish or use this information as they see fit
 
In reality, this bill encourages consumers to rely on the government to protect us from ourselves, from bad decisions we make, instead of empowering personal due diligence.  We 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. 
 
This Bureau may create some much-needed protections for consumers—but it goes too far.  Without my amendment, the Bureau will be required to collect daily, transactional financial services information on every consumer.  The government would see every time you need money or buy something on-line.
 
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.
 
I ask my colleagues and all Americans to think about just what this amendment and underlying bill will do to your privacy.  To my colleagues especially, your constituents are not going to stand for this invasion of privacy or sham attempts at privacy.  Do them a favor.  Let them make their own choices about who can get in their bank accounts and who can’t.  Vote down this sham privacy amendment and oppose cloture so this serious issue can truly be addressed.  You know I seldom get upset, but this amendment and this section of the bill is so open-ended that it has me upset.  Make sure every American has privacy - real privacy.