Equifax Data Breach Gets The Attention Of Lawmakers On Capitol Hill

Sep 12, 2017
Originally published on September 12, 2017 7:06 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, the credit scoring company Equifax is facing a pile of lawsuits and state investigations after the company announced a security breach involving the data of more than 140 million Americans. This hack took place from May through July, though Equifax only revealed it last week. Lawmakers are now taking up this issue, and among them is Senator Sherrod Brown. He is the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee.

Senator, good morning.

SHERROD BROWN: Hi, good to be with you again. Thank you.

GREENE: Well, it's good to have you back. What do you want Equifax to do that they are not already doing in the wake of this?

BROWN: Well, first, we want them to be more responsible, to protect their data better than they are. Second, they've - they say generously offered a one-year service, if you will - one year of free monitoring of credit reports. But that's just not enough. No. 1, we've done that in - the time this happened in the past to a bunch of staff on - in Capitol Hill - in Capitol Hill, they did 10 years.

The other thing, though, they - even though they were going to do this free service for a year, they were going to continue their policy of forced arbitration, meaning that anybody that was unhappy with them and wanted redress in the courts that might've wanted to sue Equifax was giving up the right to sue. They have backed off now - that one year - under the pressure from some of this, but that's simply not enough.

GREENE: You know, it's - this could be very complicated for people who don't follow this closely. But we should say this was a huge controversy in the wake of this - people saying that if they got free credit reporting, they would have to give up their right to sue. As you said, Equifax is now saying that's not the case.

But this has actually been a debate in Congress for a while now, I mean, in the wake of the whole Wells Fargo scandal. And there are Republicans who think that it's a good idea to have to give up the right to sue because there could be so many lawsuits - a drag on the economy if there were financial products and lawsuits over them. You disagree with that.

BROWN: Well, some Republican, not all Republicans, are saying what you just said. In fact, there is an effort to undo this new rule, this new forced arbitration rule come from - coming from the consumer bureau. And it looks like a majority of the Senate is saying, no, you - that consumers should have the right to sue. They shouldn't when signing the small print. I mean, think about this as an individual person. You sign up for a credit card, or you sign up for a variety of financial instruments or transactions, and there's this small print. And I'm not a lawyer, and most people aren't lawyers, and lawyers also don't - so often don't read this fine print. Then something happens, and they don't have any opportunity for redress when a company cheats them, when a company misleads them.

Equifax - well, Wells Fargo was the best example. When they opened up free accounts - oh, nope, I'm sorry - opened up accounts unbeknownst to the customer and those customers had earlier signed - for some other financial transaction had signed a forced arbitration clause, and now they're stuck with it. I mean, that's how these companies operate. It's all - it's kind of in the dead of night, and consumers aren't going to know this. And that's why government steps in for consumer protections. I mean, that's why government should stand on the side of policyholders and customers, not on the side of Wall Street, whether it's Wells Fargo or whether it's this company that few really know about, but everyone's affected about, called - affected by called Equifax.

GREENE: We just have a few seconds left. But you were getting the sense on Capitol Hill that there is more bipartisanship when it comes to consumer protections in the wake of Equifax.

BROWN: Yeah, I mean, my - well, lot of my Republican colleagues, I mean, they - all things being equal, they side with Wall Street. But on a lot of these consumer issues, they hear from their people at home. I hear from people in Toledo, and Mansfield, and Youngstown and Hamilton, Ohio, and they say they want these protections. They want government to side on - stand on the side of consumers, not on the side of Wall Street. And I see a number of my Republican colleagues joining me on this.

GREENE: All right, that is Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, who's the ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee. Senator, thanks as always. We appreciate it.

BROWN: Glad to be with you again. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.