EDITORIAL: The pocketbook spies

Big Brother knows what you spend on everything

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Our emails are read, our telephones are tapped and satellites keep track of where we go. This total information awareness should satisfy the nosiest of busybodies, but the federal busybodies want more. They want to know everything we buy. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is spending $20 million collecting, analyzing and storing customer credit card transactions, and cataloging spending habits and other financial data of millions of Americans.

The bureau has ordered banks to turn over records on personal checking account overdrafts and other data, including credit monitoring services and debt information. Short-term borrower data will be stored in a government database of mortgages, loans and property records. Most troubling of all, the agency is generating a monthly summary of credit card transactions. None of this is done with the knowledge or consent of the consumer.

According to information collected by Judicial Watch, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau paid Argus Information & Advisory Services nearly $2.9 million and has an $8.4 million “indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity” contract with credit bureau Experian to track the habits of consumers, as well as a $5 million contract with Deloitte consulting for software and instruction.

Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho Republican, wants the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was established to help consumers, not spy on them. “The size and scope of this data collection warrant proper government oversight to both guard consumers’ privacy and ensure that the CFPB is acting within its existing authority,” Mr. Crapo wrote. Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, wants answers, too. “The [National Security Agency] claims it is protecting you from terrorists,” he says. “The consumer protection bureau claims it’s protecting you from banks. At what point does ‘protection’ become power or control?”

That’s a good question. What’s most troubling about this is that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation bill that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau made sure the agency would escape congressional oversight. Its operations receive far less scrutiny than even the secretive National Security Agency. Congress can’t exercise its constitutional oversight over the executive branch because the bureau draws its operating cash directly from the Federal Reserve. The bureau’s director serves a five-year term, and he can only be removed by the president for cause.

The Senate does have oversight in its power to confirm the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but even this was too much for President Obama. In January 2012, Mr. Obama installed Richard Cordray as director without the confirmation of the Senate, using the same “recess appointment” procedure he used to make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The Supreme Court last month agreed to review whether such recess appointments are constitutional. If held unconstitutional, the precedent could be used to invalidate all Cordray rulings.

The questionable appointment is of a piece with the Obama administration’s spirit of lawlessness, which is undermining public trust of the government. Even a trustworthy chief executive would have a difficult time explaining how the government has a right to read everyone’s intimate financial papers without probable cause or a warrant. The Fourth Amendment, as we know, is not a favorite at the White House. This spying program must be shut down.

The Washington Times

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