According to an announcement on its website, the CFPB has signed an agreement with the FTC that not only allows the CFPB to access complaints on the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database but under which the CFPB will also share with the database complaints it receives from consumers. In addition to the FTC, the database can be accessed online by more than 50 other federal agencies as well as approximately 120 state agencies, 330 local agencies and 19 foreign agencies. (The “law enforcement” agencies who are database members, including several hundred more without online access, are listed on the database website.)

In an earlier blog posting, my colleague Chris Willis discussed the CFPB’s interim final rule that contains its policies and procedures for the disclosure of confidential information, including consumer complaint information. As Chris warned, the rule contemplates that the CFPB will share confidential information with other governmental agencies. However, we are hard-pressed to see where the CFPB’s plan to share consumer complaints with the FTC database fits in that rule. It doesn’t seem to fit in the provision that allows the CFPB to disclose confidential information to “governmental agencies” upon receipt of a specific written request or on a “standing basis” under terms negotiated with “federal or state agencies.” It also doesn’t seem to fit in the provision that allows the CFPB to disclose consumer complaints “as it deems necessary to investigate, resolve or otherwise respond” to those complaints. Could it be that in sharing complaints with the FTC database, the CFPB is relying on its catchall authority to disclose confidential information “as authorized by the Director in writing”? (If it is, then presumably the agreement with the FTC was signed by Treasury Secretary Geithner.)

Without a publicly available agreement to look at, there’s no way to know what authority the CFPB is relying on. And if it is relying on its catchall authority, one might wonder why the CFPB has bothered to go through the exercise of labeling consumer complaint information as “confidential” and providing in its rule for the disclosure of that information only under specified circumstances. So I ask, as did my colleague Alan Kaplinsky about his being told that the CFPB’s fair lending MOU with the FTC is not public, why not make the agreement with the FTC publicly available?