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Senators Seek Feedback on Consumer Privacy Controls

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Senate Banking Committee members called for public feedback Wednesday on ways to protect consumers’ financial information in order to help inform potential privacy legislation in the new Congress.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, chairman of the committee, along with ranking member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “the collection, use and protection of personally identifiable information and other sensitive information by financial regulators and private financial companies (including third parties that share information with financial regulators and private financial companies)” deserves close scrutiny.

“Given the exponential growth and use of data, and corresponding data breaches,” Crapo said that he’d like to examine how the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which regulates the collection of credit information and the access to credit reports, “should work in a digital economy, and whether certain data brokers and other firms serve a function similar to the original consumer reporting agencies.”

Crapo wants to zero in on what “data is contained in modern consumer reports, how the information is gathered, who compiles it, how it is protected, how consumers can access it and correct it, and how privacy is respected.”

Since the Equifax breach, “the country has learned that financial and technology companies are collecting huge stockpiles of sensitive personal data, but fail over and over to protect Americans’ privacy,” added Brown.

Outdated privacy laws, Brown continued, “don’t address the complex surveillance schemes these businesses profit from today,” adding that Congress “should make it easy for consumers to find out who is collecting personal information about them, and give consumers power over how that data is used, stored and distributed.”

The senators asked interested parties to submit answers to five questions by March 15 to [email protected].

The lawmakers are asking interested parties how legislation, regulation or best practices could give consumers more control over and enhance the protection of their financial data, as well as ensure that consumers are notified of breaches in a timely and consistent manner. Another question probed potential ways credit bureaus could protect consumer data and ensure that information contained in a credit file is accurate.

The same day, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for a federal privacy law that would protect consumers and eliminate a confusing patchwork of state laws.

“Technology has changed the way consumers and businesses share and use data, and voluntary standards are no longer enough. New rules of the road are necessary and it is time for Congress to pass a federal privacy law,” said Tim Day, senior vice president of the Chamber’s Technology Engagement Center.

Chamber’s model legislation would require businesses to post a privacy policy that is easily accessible, as well as comply with requests from consumers regarding how personal information is being used and shared.

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office recommended Wednesday that Congress develop comprehensive internet privacy legislation to better protect consumers.

Noting the Facebook breach that may have improperly exposed up to 87 million users’ personal data, GAO said in releasing its report Wednesday that “there is no comprehensive U.S. Internet privacy law governing private companies’ collection, use or sale of users’ data.”