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All consumer complaint narratives should be public, Reporters Committee, media coalition tell CFPB

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The Reporters Committee and eight news organizations are asking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to abandon a proposal to allow…

The Reporters Committee and eight news organizations are asking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to abandon a proposal to allow only consumer complaint narratives from those “opting in” to be posted on its online database. In addition to being important public records that are subject to disclosure, the database is an important source of information for the press and the public relating to financial regulation.

"Not only are the narratives important resources for consumers, journalists, and the public at large, they are also government records and, accordingly, should be open to public inspection to the greatest extent possible," the coalition’s comments to CFPB stated. "The relationship between consumers and financial institutions remains a topic of utmost public concern in the United States and around the world. The experiences reflected in the narrative portion of consumer complaints submitted to the CFBP will contribute to the public’s understanding of that relationship, and inform the ongoing democratic debate regarding financial regulations."

In addition, as a public record, complaints to the CFPB are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, regardless of whether the sender opts to post them online. "Therefore, as the consumer complaints at issue are already open to the public under FOIA, there is no reason not to publish all narratives that accompany consumer complaints," the comments noted.

Joining the Reporters Committee on the comments were: Dow Jones & Company, Inc.; National Press Photographers Association; National Public Radio, Inc.; News Corp.; Newspaper Association of America; Radio Television Digital News Association; The Associated Press; and Tully Center for Free Speech.

About the Reporters Committee

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.