Following recent reports on The Work Number, a mammoth employment-verification database operated by credit reporting agency Equifax, a group of seven U.S. Congresspersons have written the company’s CEO asking for more information about the legality of the service.
“Most Americans would consider payroll information very sensitive and private,” begins the letter, signed by Senator Jackie Speier of California and six of her fellow House members — Carol Shea-Porter (New Hampshire), Hank Johnson (Georgia), Sam Farr (California), Louise Slaughter (New York), Zoe Lofgren (California), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) — that asks Equifax CEO Richard Smith to respond to concerns about the company’s re-selling of the information contained in the Work Number database.
“What is most concerning to us is that this database appears to generate revenue using consumers’ sensitive personal information for profit,” write the legislators. “According to a brochure on your own webste, Equifax brags that The Work Number makes debt collectors’ jobs easier. We are also concerned by the fact that Equifax markets The Work Number specifically to student loan issuers.”
“We believe it is unlikely that consumers understand that they give these third parties the right to access the kind of data included in this database ‘at the time of application’ for credit.”
The lawmakers ask Smith a number of questions:
* How many consumers have requested a free Work Number report? How many have reported errors in their report?
* Do you consider this information to be part of the consumer’s credit report? Is this information provided when a consumer requests their credit report from Equifax?
*To whom does The Work Number sell employment and salary data? Does The Work Number sell employee informaiton to third party marketers? Is consumer consent ever required for the sale of their data?
*How much has Equifax earned from the sale of employee data on an annual basis over the past five years?
*Is health care provider and dental insurance information ever included in these reports?
*Has there ever been a data breach?
*Is full salary and employment data ever sold to debt collectors? What information can debt collectors access?
“The Work Number appears to have operated under the radar, with little public awareness of the vast trove of data it was gathering,” Speier explains in a statement. “There is no greater threat to privacy than the creation of a database of sensitive consumer financial and personal information sold for profit for purposes that are unclear and without the knowledge of the consumer. Equifax needs to explain exactly how it is using this data, and provide evidence that The Work Number does not pose a threat to the privacy of 190 million Americans.”