Cantwell Sponsors Legislation to Give Control of Credit Information Back to Consumers, Protect Personal Data Following Equifax Hack

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) co-sponsored the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation (FREE) Act, authored by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), to give control over credit and personal information back to consumers. The recent Equifax hack announcement, which compromised the personal information of over 145 million Americans, highlighted just how little control consumers have over the collection, use, and sale of their own credit data.

“Equifax and many other companies have a long, long way to go before they deserve the public’s trust when it comes to protecting personal information,” said Cantwell. “This legislation will put control of their personal financial information back in the hands of American consumers, where it should have been all along.”

Credit reporting agencies like Equifax collect personal financial data on millions of Americans and rake in billions of dollars in annual revenue selling this information to others.  If consumers wish to limit how credit reporting agencies use this information - such as by placing a credit freeze on their credit file - they often have to pay a fee to the agency, even though consumers never gave the agency permission to collect their data in the first place.  The FREE Act helps address this problem by creating a federal requirement for credit reporting agencies to freeze (as well as temporarily or permanently unfreeze) access to credit files at a consumer's request and at no cost.

The FREE Act would also prevent credit reporting agencies from profiting off of consumers' information during a freeze, enhance fraud alert protections, and provide the opportunity for consumers to receive an additional free credit report following the Equifax data breach.  Finally, the bill would force Equifax and the other credit reporting agencies to refund any fees they charged for credit freezes in the wake of the Equifax data breach.

The legislation has received endorsements from the National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients), U.S. PIRG, Consumer Action, Americans for Financial Reform, CREDO, National Association of Consumer Advocates, and the Consumer Federation of America.

View a fact sheet about the legislation HERE. View the bill text HERE.