A single expanded federal government database may soon contain more sensitive information about millions of Americans than any before, and it has nothing to do with NSA, FBI or DOD.
According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the National Mortgage Database initiative began in 2012 as a reaction to the housing and financial crisis, and was expanded in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 to report monthly on the state of the mortgage market.
The database was originally intended to track all first-lien single-family mortgages from 1998 on, and share the data with the newly formed post-crisis Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It would also be incorporated into Congress’ annual reports on the mortgage market.
As of last July, the database already held data on more than 10 million mortgage holders and two contracts with CoreLogic — a consumer financial analytics corporation with data on 227 million loans from the industry’s “largest, most comprehensive active and historical mortgage databases,” the Washington Examiner reports.
According to former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Adam Levin in a Huffington Post report, CFPB Director Richard Cordray testified before the House Financial Services Committee in January that the database would anonymize all data and omit personally identifiable information.
That changed in April according to a notice posted to the Federal Register by the FHFA and CFPB, which stated the database will now include names, address histories, telephone numbers, birth dates, social security numbers, races, genders, ethnicities, spoken languages, religions, employment histories, education records, military records, and entire financial histories — including outstanding balances, payment histories, debt-to-income ratios, and more — all the way back to 1998.
Texas Republican and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling along with Idaho senator and ranking Senate Banking Committee Republican Mike Crapo wrote to the heads of both agencies in May saying the database expansion “represents an unwarranted intrusion into the private lives of ordinary Americans, and can be easily perceived as an abuse of the trust placed in your agencies by the American people.”
“An expanded National Mortgage Database would be like El Dorado for every kind of cyber attacker out there, the information not only being of value to identity thieves, but potentially as part of a full-spectrum attack on U.S. financial markets,” Levin wrote Thursday on the increase in frequency and success of hacking attacks across private and public sectors throughout the U.S.
“While the threat of cyber attacks grows, we need to be very careful about the kind of information we aggregate and store in any one place. Unfortunately, attacks are a given, breaches are the third certainty in life and until that is no longer the case, until we can be absolutely certain that the information we collect is safe, we should be exceedingly mindful about avoiding the data equivalents of a Pandora’s Box.”