Big Data

CFPB Director: Yes, We Have Data. No, We're Not the NSA.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray // Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and National Security Agency both collect data. They are both federal agencies. So does that make them the same thing?

At least one House member seems to think so.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray appeared before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday to deliver a semiannual report on the work of his agency. His opening testimony covered implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act and efforts to improve consumers' financial literacy.

But Rep. Randy Neugebauer wasn't interested in any of that. The Texas Republican wanted to know whether the data the bureau was collecting about consumers was safe and not jeopardizing the privacy of everyday Americans. "You are collecting a lot of data and you are doing the best you can," he offered.

Neugebauer then began quoting at length from President Obama's Jan. 17 policy speech that outlined some reforms to the NSA before he launched into a quixotic series of questions.

"You are saying that you are not [abusing the data you collect], but the president says we cannot always take that at face value," Neugebauer said. "Can this data be reverse engineered?"

Cordray, the agency's first director, responded: "You are giving me quotes about the NSA, which is not us and not what we are doing."

But Neugebauer was undeterred. "You are in a contest [with the NSA] of who can collect the most information."

Cordray, a bit agitated, shot back: "I fundamentally reject the categorization. In terms of what we are doing, we are making every effort to be very careful in satisfying the federal law in terms of security and privacy and in terms of treating consumers properly."

Neugebauer proceeded to ask some variation of "can your data be reverse engineered?" another three times until his time expired.

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