National Mortgage Database: Big Brother Is Watching You

By:  Michael Tennant
National Mortgage Database: Big Brother Is Watching You

The federal government is building a National Mortgage Database that will contain vast amounts of highly personal information on individual Americans.

Big Brother, it seems, never tires of finding new ways to keep tabs on his “siblings.” The latest exhibit: a national database of mortgages that will include highly personal information, including a borrower’s Social Security number, financial history, race, household composition, life events, and even religion.

“The database might be a gold mine for curious regulators and researchers, but is not cause for celebration for the borrowers whose personal information populates the database,” observed Hester Peirce, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

The National Mortgage Database (NMD) Program, a joint effort by the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), already exists, though the information contained therein is limited primarily to specifics about the mortgage itself. Now, according to an April Federal Register notice, the agencies want to expand the database to include vastly more personal information, including “without limitation” a borrower’s name, address, date of birth, ethnicity, gender, language, religion, Social Security number, education records, military and employment status and records, account number, financial and life events in the last few years, other assets and wealth, mortgage information, credit card and other loan information, household composition, household income, marital status, and “information collected from consumers as part of surveys, randomized controlled trials, or through other mechanisms.”

In other words, the NMD can hold as complete a picture of someone’s life as the government desires to paint. What’s more, as House Financial Services Committee chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Senate Banking Committee ranking member Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) pointed out in a letter to the directors of the two agencies, “the FHFA and CFPB have already publicly indicated that borrowers do not have the opportunity or right to opt out of the database.”

The exact number of records the NMD will contain is unknown. According to the Washington Examiner, as of last July it held information on at least 10.1 million borrowers. The Federal Register notice says that the NMD will contain a 1-in-20 sample of all “first lien single-family mortgages in existence at any point in time from January 1998 to the present (and continuing on into the future).” The Examiner, however, notes that one of the companies working on the database, CoreLogic, “boasts that it has ‘access to industry’s largest most comprehensive active and historical mortgage databases of over 227 million loans.’”

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