December 13, 2019

Wyden, Warren and Paul Ask Credit Reporting Agencies for Transparency About Their Handling of FBI Requests for Consumer Financial Data

New documents show FBI has frequently requested sensitive information from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., yesterday sent letters to the Chief Executive Officers of the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – regarding the companies' lack of transparency in their handling of consumer financial information requested through national security letters (NSLs) from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The letters follow the recent release of documents gained via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit indicating that the three credit reporting agencies have frequently been the recipients of such requests.

NSLs are akin to administrative subpoenas that require the recipient to divulge information that the FBI deems relevant to national security investigations, which in the case of the credit agencies can even include full credit reports. They do not require prior approval from a judge, and are frequently accompanied by nondisclosure orders preventing companies from notifying consumers that the company has received a letter.

Under the USA FREEDOM Act, companies that receive NSLs from the FBI may publish information about the volume of NSLs they receive and release redacted versions of the letters if and when the nondisclosure orders are lifted by the FBI. However, while dozens of technology and telecommunication companies have been transparent about their receipt and handling of NSLs, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion have not.

"Because your company holds so much potentially sensitive data on so many Americans and collects this information without obtaining consent from these individuals, you have a responsibility to be transparent about how you handle that data," the senators wrote. "Unfortunately, your company has not provided information to policymakers or the public about the type or the number of disclosures that you have made to the FBI."

To gain a better understanding of the content that the credit reporting agencies share with the FBI, the senators asked the companies to answer a series of questions about their receipt, handling and reporting of NSLs, and asked if the companies would follow the lead of their peers and release regular transparency reports about NSLs.

"American consumers deserve to know what happens to the data that your company collects, which can encompass all of the major financial relationships that a consumer might have over the course of their lifetime," the senators continued.

The senators requested responses to their letters by December 20, 2019.

Copies of the letters are available here.