By Brittany M. Hughes
(CNSNews.com) – Most Americans believe that the federal government’s mining of their personal financial data is as, or even more, concerning than the controversial monitoring programs conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), a recent Zogby poll showed.
The public opinion survey, conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Coalition, focused on a little-known federal agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which collects large amounts of personal financial information.
Of those polled, only about 19 percent of the survey’s 3,225 “likely voters” said they were familiar with the agency.
“Not surprisingly, Americans seem to not know very much about the CFPB,” the poll analysis stated.
Created in 2010 by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act), the CFBP is responsible for monitoring the nation’s financial markets and banks, and enforcing national finance laws.
According to the agency’s website, CFPB officials “gather and analyze available information to better understand consumers, financial services providers, and consumer financial markets.”
In its poll, Zogby Analytics asked respondents whether they agreed with the following statement: “A government agency such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should be able to collect hundreds of millions of credit card statements from Americans, and use the information to find out how and where consumers spend their money.”
Respondents were asked to choose whether they strongly disagreed, somewhat agreed, somewhat disagreed, strongly disagreed, were not familiar enough with the issue, or weren’t sure.
Only 20 percent of Americans thought the agency should be able to collect personal credit card information without their knowledge, the poll showed, while three in five of those polled disagreed with this agency practice.
About 78 percent of those polled said that the agency’s budget should be subjected to congressional approval. The CFPB’s budget is currently subject to approval by the agency’s director.
Despite being somewhat in the dark about the agency and its role, 55 percent of those polled said the government’s monitoring of their financial information was similar or worse than NSA practices, which have drawn concerns over government wiretapping and individual privacy.
Zogby also asked respondents, “Is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s data collection program worse than, the same as, or better than the NSA’s reviewing domestic phone and text records of U.S. Citizens?”
Eight percent said the CFPB’s data collection was better than NSA’s reviewing of domestic phone and text records, 12 percent said it was worse, and 43 percent said the two were about the same.
The poll analysis said that “the public wants to be protected against predators, but it also wants individual privacy respected.”
“For a short while after the horrors of 9-11 there was a consensus that favored government interference in the daily lives of Americans -- that sentiment has largely subsided,” it stated.
“The change has also been developed as a result of exposes of excesses by the National Security Agency and revelations of other electronic spying. In this context, Americans are not willing to favor invasiveness by any other government agency, even one that is mandated to protect consumers’ rights.”
According to a Government Accountability Office report last September, between January 2012 and July 1, 2014 the CFPB collected data including 700,000 monthly automobile sales; 10.7 million personal credit reports; 25-75 million credit card accounts; 173 million mortgages; and 5.5 million student loans.
The agency also collects information on payday loans, overdraft fees, and other financial data on an ongoing basis, the GAO report detailed.
Despite collecting massive amounts of personal financial information, the GAO reported that the CFPB’s practices were “consistent with Federal Information Security Management Act requirements.”
The government’s ability to protect the large volumes of highly personal information it collects has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks following a massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management, in which hackers believed to be linked to China stole large amounts of personal data from the OPM data base.
The stolen information included Social Security numbers and information related to background checks of people who had applied for a security clearance with the government dating back to 2000.
On Thursday the OPM released the findings of an interagency investigation into the hack, which showed that about 21.5 million Social Security Numbers belonging to government employees and their families had been stolen.
The Zogby poll was conducted June 5-10, and included 3,225 likely voters and 3,604 adults nationwide.