Big Brother wants to know what you put on the credit card

By , CardRatings contributor

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The Internet exploded earlier this year with the revelation the National Security Agency had been involved in large-scale, unwarranted surveillance of citizens nationwide.

The aftermath involved the flight of informant Edward Snowden to Russia, a lockdown of NSA data and a national debate regarding whether widespread surveillance is a benign necessity to keep us safe or an unacceptable invasion of privacy.

Now, it is time for round two. News reports have surfaced indicating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is planning a large-scale effort to monitor credit card transactions.

Credit card monitoring part of strategic plan

According to a recent Washington Examiner report, credit-card monitoring is part of the CFPB's strategic plan for the next few years.

In a document obtained by the news outlet, the federal consumer protection agency says it hopes to monitor 80 percent of all credit card transactions during 2013. And it isn't just credit cards that are on the radar screen. The CFPB also hopes to monitor 95 percent of mortgage transactions.

At a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, CFPB director Richard Cordray reportedly said credit card transactions are being reviewed at 110 banks including some of the biggest names in the finance industry. Credit cards issued by JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Discover, Capital One and American Express are apparently already being monitored.

What CFPB card monitoring means for you

So why is the CFPB gathering data on credit card transactions and what does it mean for you?

The bureau hasn't publicly responded to criticism of its monitoring program so, for now, the purpose of the action can be left for speculation.

But you can probably safely assume the CFPB won't be watching for specific instances of fraud or alerting you to irregularities on your bill. Under the Frank-Dodd Act, the bureau can't collect personally identifiable financial information.

Instead, the agency is limited to taking a big picture view of credit card usage. Certainly, based on previous CFPB action, it would appear the bureau is trying to ferret out trends and policies that may be problematic for consumers.

In his prepared remarks to the committee, Cordray noted the CFPB has already used the data its collected to determine whether action was needed to address certain credit card business practices.

"In some cases, the companies targeted economically vulnerable consumers with low credit scores and low credit limits," said Cordray. "We were able to secure $425 million in relief for 6 million consumers, and we also imposed penalties on the companies to deter such activity in the future."

While critics may argue credit card transaction monitoring poses an unethical invasion of privacy, supporters of the action may say it is the only way for the CFPB to gather the information needed to ensure consumers aren't being taken advantage of by big businesses.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it may be that the only way to opt of monitoring is to opt out of using credit cards.


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