Housing bailout bill creates national fingerprint registry

The Senate housing bill approved by a committee this week was already drawing fire from fiscal conservatives and financially responsible homeowners opposed to bailing out housing speculators.

Now it may be time to add privacy advocates to the chorus of voices urging President Bush to veto the bill, which could put taxpayers on the hook for billions of bailout dollars in new taxes or deficit spending.

Buried in the text of the revised legislation, approved by the Senate Banking Committee by a 19-2 vote this week, is a plan to create a new national fingerprint registry. It covers just about everyone involved in the mortgage business, including lenders, “loan originators,” and some real estate agents.

Fingerprint graphic

“We know that today the rules governing mortgage brokers and lenders are inadequate,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “There is just a thin patchwork of regulation that varies from state to state. This legislation will create basic minimum standards for states to utilize to protect consumers.” Feinstein and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) wrote a separate bill introduced in February that has been glued onto the revised Senate housing legislation.

What’s a little odd is the lack of public discussion about this new fingerprint database. No mention of it appears in the official summary of the revised Senate bill. No fingerprint database requirement is in the House version of the legislation approved earlier this month. No copy of the revised Senate legislation is posted on the Library of Congress’ Thomas Web site, which would be the usual procedure.

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