For Immediate Release - September 09, 2015

AG Healey Files Supreme Court Brief Promoting Integrity and Fair Use of Personal Data

Leads Multistate Effort to Support Case Brought Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act

BOSTON – As part of her ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of consumers’ personal data and ensure its fair use, Attorney General Maura Healey led the filing of a multistate amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize the harm that consumers suffer when inaccurate information about them is disseminated by businesses and relied upon in making decisions that affect their lives.

The amicus brief filed Tuesday in support of the respondent in Spokeo v. Robins, was joined by 12 other states and the District of Columbia. The underlying case alleges Spokeo, a people search engine website, willfully violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by failing to maintain procedures to ensure the accuracy of personal data collected and subsequently shared about the respondent, causing him to lose valuable job opportunities. 

“We live in a data-driven economy, where our personal data is routinely collected, bought, and sold without our knowledge,” AG Healey said. “This data is often used as the basis for giving someone housing, insurance, a line of credit, or a job. Individuals should not be penalized or lose out on these opportunities because inaccurate information about them has been disseminated.”

As explained in the friend of the court brief, data brokers collect information about consumers from a variety of sources, including mobile devices, interactions with various websites, or purchasing activity. They then compile individualized data profiles, which they market and sell to a variety of businesses as purportedly accurate predictors of a consumer’s future behavior, including whether the consumer is a good credit or insurance risk, tenant, or employee. 

The amicus brief argues that false personal information within a data profile can be expected to cause negative consequences to consumers, but that those consequences can be difficult to detect because consumers are often unaware when their data is disseminated, how it is used, or by whom.

The FCRA, first enacted by Congress in 1970, gives consumers the right to pursue relief for injuries that result when consumer reporting agencies willfully violate the FCRA by disseminating inaccurate personal data about them without following reasonable procedures to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of the information. The brief further asserts that consumers must have the ability to redress these injuries, which are often hard to identity or quantify, and that private enforcement of the FCRA is needed to complement the role of state attorneys general in protecting consumers.

According to the brief, even the most highly regulated consumer data profiles – credit reports – continue to contain errors. According to a 2012 study by the FTC, approximately 25 percent of consumers encountered one or more errors in at least one of the credit reports issued by the three national credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax). In May 2015, the AG’s Office announced a $6 million multistate settlement with the three credit reporting agencies following disputes over credit report errors, and concerns with their marketing and furnishers of consumer debt information.

Consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company. Consumers should monitor their credit reports to ensure that the information within it is correct and up to date, and to spot potential signs of identity theft.  Information on how to obtain a free annual credit report and how to dispute any incorrect information in a report can be found here.

Other jurisdictions joining the amicus brief include: Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

The brief was drafted by Assistant Attorneys General Sara Cable and Francesca L. Miceli of AG Healey’s Consumer Protection Division.