MONTGOMERY, ALA., October 13, 2023 – U.S. Senator Katie Britt (R-Ala.), a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, joined Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the potential risks, constitutional issues, and privacy concerns raised by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT).
First instituted over a decade ago, the CAT is a system designed to track trades across American markets, giving regulators access to investor information and trade activity. Among the information collected under the CAT is the personally identifiable information (PII) of every investor that trades on U.S. stock exchanges. The collection of PII poses serious consumer privacy concerns, as this sensitive information can be used to build a complete picture of a specific individual’s trading activity and can be susceptible to a potential data breach.
In a letter to Gene Dodaro, the Comptroller General, Senators Britt and Kennedy requested that the GAO investigate and report on the constitutionality and legality of the collection of personal and financial information, the cyber vulnerabilities of the database, and an estimation of the number of individuals that will regularly have access to the information in the database.
The text of the full letter can be found here and below:
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
For more than a decade, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been working to operationalize the Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT). The SEC adopted Rule 613 in 2012 which established the CAT with the goal of “creating a comprehensive consolidated audit trail that allows regulators to efficiently and accurately track all activity in [Reg] NMS securities throughout the U.S. markets.”
Since Rule 613 was adopted, the CAT has gone through several operational delays while market participants, SEC commissioners, and members of Congress have continued to raise concerns over the continually growing costs related to CAT implementation. However, the top concern related to the CAT remains the collection of personally identifiable information (PII) of every investor that trades a single share of stock on a U.S. exchange. This information will be collected and stored in a vast database that will be subject to cyberattacks and which presents concerns about the privacy and protection of Americans’ sensitive personal information.
Even more concerning, the CAT poses fundamental threats to protections from “unreasonable search and seizures” under the Fourth Amendment. The courts have previously held that the mandated production of certain information can violate the Fourth Amendment. There are many legitimate reasons for an individual would not want their financial transactions to be regularly submitted to a government registry. The SEC has failed to appreciate and address these concerns that CAT collection of PII presents.
We request that GAO investigate and report on the potential risks, Constitutional issues, and personal privacy concerns that are presented due to PII collection under the CAT. The GAO’s report should encompass:
- An analysis of the constitutionality and the legality regarding the collection of American investors personal and financial by a regulator in a centralized database without any evidence of wrongdoing;
- The cyber vulnerabilities of the CAT database;
- An estimation of the total number of individuals that will have regular access to information collected under CAT, the professional affiliation of these individuals, and any screening or background check processes established by the SEC and FINRA to vet any individual that will be able to access the CAT database;
- A list of all publicly reported cyberattacks on federal government agencies over the last three (3) years and analysis of Americans’ PII that was compromised or potentially compromised as a result of such cyberattacks including the cost to repair the identities of such individuals;
- An analysis of what entities retail investors may hold legally liable for a cyber-attack on the CAT if the incident results in the theft of American investors account numbers, identities, and/or securities holdings, and what the cost of that liability might be based on previous identity theft cost information.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We appreciate your response no later than November 15, 2023.