Throughout the anger and frustration over the Equifax breach debacle, consumers, reporters and legislators have repeatedly asked me: "Ed, why don't consumers, not credit bureaus, control when their credit reports can be shared or sold?" Now comes U.S. Senator Jack Reed (RI) with a PIRG-backed bill to do just that! Today, Senator Reed introduced the Control Your Personal Credit Information Act (S. 2362), "which seeks to give consumers greater control over when and how their consumer reports are shared by consumer reporting agencies (his release)."
We have long worked to improve the accuracy and security of credit reports and to give consumers more control over them.
- In the 1990s, we helped win several state laws providing consumers with the right to free credit reports annually on request, which led to passage of a federal right to a free credit report in 2003.
- After a hard-fought battle in 2003, where we defended the rights of states (a right still under continuous industry attack) to pass stronger privacy and identity theft reform laws, we worked in coalition with Consumers Union (and AARP) throughout the 2000s to pass data breach notification and credit (security) freeze bills in nearly every state.
- Now, after the massive Equifax breach finally announced in September, we've worked hard and seen movement in a number of states and Congress on legislation to make credit freezes (and temporary lifts) free.
Senator Reed's bill takes the critical next step. In answer to the question,"Ed, why don't consumers, not credit bureaus, control when their credit reports can be shared or sold?" it answers, "Why not? Let's change it up. Let's give consumers control over their information that the big credit bureaus have been collecting and selling without consumer permission for too long." As the Senator explains in his release:
Credit reports play a crucial role in Americans’ lives, as most creditors use them to help determine whether to extend credit and at what rate. “But under existing law, the current consumer reporting system is backwards. Consumer reporting agencies collect so much information on us, often without our consent, so at the very least, they should ask us for our permission before they share or sell our information. The Control Your Personal Credit Information Act would fix the current upside down system by giving consumers greater control -- at no cost to the consumer -- over when and how their information is released when applying for new credit, a loan, or insurance, [said Senator Reed].”
We're backing the bill, along with the credit report experts at National Consumer Law Center and other leading groups. Giving consumers control over their personal information is the right thing to do. We're still working to make the security freeze free. We're still trying to figure out just what the heck Equifax is up to. We're still trying to rein in the big credit bureaus. But we're glad that Senator Jack Reed is answering the next question that everyone is asking. His bill would change the "upside-down" credit reporting system. It is bad enough that credit bureaus don't treat us as customers -- just products to be sold -- but even worse when they don't give our financial DNA the respect it deserves.