Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. (Photo: Bloomberg) Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. (Photo: Bloomberg)

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., released draft legislation Tuesday, the Comprehensive Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act, to ensure that the fallout of breaches, mistakes and problems at the credit reporting companies is not a burden on consumers.

Waters’ bill aims to reform the consumer credit reporting agency system and to protect data while limiting employers’ use of credit checks.

After more than four hours of testimony, Waters said she was “more concerned than ever about the state of our credit reporting system,” and said it must be rebuilt from the ground up.

Waters said she would be introducing legislation shortly.

During the lengthy hearing, lawmakers expressed concern for those who are harmed for negative items on their reports, including those whose good credit has been affected by the federal government shutdown. Waters also released during the hearing a discussion draft of the “Protecting Innocent Consumers Affected By The Shutdown Act.

Lawmakers pressed witnesses on the use of the data, its accuracy, the consent of consumers and potential ideas such as aggregating data and taking advantage of requested data freezes, free of charge to consumers.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., noted that the credit bureau executives had all acknowledged that consumers own their own data, but pointedly asked whether consumers give consent for the use of their data.

“No,” replied Equifax CEO Mark Begor.

Yes, “credit scores are life-altering pieces of information,” Cortez said. One in five people have had an error on their report. If that were the error rate in skydiving, people wouldn’t do it, she said. Yet these mistakes and other information affect people’s ability to get a home or a job, Cortez said.

Rep. Edwin Perlmuter, D-Colo., told the assembled credit bureau executives that he himself has not been able to repair a problem with his credit report for two years, much to his wife’s chagrin. He acknowledged he screwed up on a check and paid the wrong amount, sending his credit rating plummeting.

The massive Equifax breach in September 2017 exposing millions of Americans’ personal and  financial information was also a centerpiece in the hearings.

Equifax’s Begor said the firm still does not know who hacked the company, although Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., said reports suggested it was China.

The three credit reporting company executives testifying during the first panel of the daylong hearing told lawmakers repeatedly that their systems were constantly under attack, sometimes daily.

“There are constant attacks on all of our systems,” said Craig Boundy, CEO of Experian North America.

“This is a war that every company every financial institution faces … this is a war that is not going to end. … We get alerts every day,” Begor told lawmakers.

During questioning, no credit bureau executive could assure Congress that a hack would not happen again in the future.

However, they did say they were pouring millions into technology and IT surveillance and systems to try to protect data.

“Accuracy is the most important thing we can do,” said James Peck, president and CEO of TransUnion.

“We dramatically increased our technology spending by $1.25 billion between 2018 and 2020 and will spend approximately $1 billion per year during this time frame to transform our technology and security to industry-leading capabilities. In 2018, we built out core information security competencies,” Begor testified.

It may not be enough.

“These data breaches are deeply troubling because credit bureaus collect reams of information on millions of Americans. The more information they collect, the more people are at risk when that information is not properly protected,” Waters stated. “To credit reporting bureaus, consumers aren’t consumers. They are commodities. This commodification of consumers and their personal data is the core reason why our nation’s consumer credit reporting system is broken.”