More consumer data safeguards needed, watchdog tells US Congress

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By Douglas Gillison

(Reuters) – The head of the top U.S. watchdog agency for consumer finance on Wednesday called on lawmakers to adopt greater protections against the collection and use of consumers’ data from payment processing and so-called buy-now-pay-later services.

Rohit Chopra, director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, delivered his first testimony on Capitol Hill since a Supreme Court decision last month upholding the constitutionality of the agency’s funding structure.

In prepared remarks, Chopra cited recent media reports according to which companies such as JPMorgan Chase & Co and PayPal planned to allow the use of customer payments data for targeted advertising and said it was “critical that Congress must act too.”

“These plans to monetize sensitive financial transaction data are a reminder that the United States is slowly lurching toward more financial surveillance and even financial censorship,” he said.

PayPal did not immediately respond to a request for comment but Trish Wexler, a representative for JPMorgan Chase, told Reuters Chopra was mistaken and that Chase in fact allowed customers to opt in to receive coupons for online shopping.

“No transaction or other personal information is ever shared in developing these discount offers,” she said.

Chopra likewise told the committee he was concerned that companies offering buy-now-pay-later services could leave consumers with little choice but to allow similar uses of their data.

The CFPB last month issued an interpretive rule treating such companies as credit card providers and requiring them to investigate disputed charges and issue refunds.

Chopra also rejected assertions from Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, that his agency was illegally drawing funding from the Federal Reserve because the central bank has recently been operating at a loss.

Such arguments have circulated among agency critics since last month’s Supreme Court decision, which rejected industry-backed arguments that the Constitution did not allow the CFPB to receive funding outside the congressional appropriations process.

“How are you entitled to any money right now? The Federal Reserve doesn’t have any earnings,” said Kennedy.

“I can tell you we’ve looked at this issue. We do believe wholeheartedly everyone is complying with the statute,” said Chopra.

(Reporting by Douglas Gillison; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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