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  • Biden administration releases National Cybersecurity Strategy

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On March 2, the Biden administration announced the release of its National Cybersecurity Strategy (Strategy) in a continued effort to provide a safe and secure digital ecosystem for Americans. The Strategy, which expands on other steps taken by the administration in this space (covered by InfoBytes here), focuses on several key pillars for building and enhancing collaboration, including:

    • Defending critical infrastructure. The Strategy will expand the use of minimum cybersecurity requirements in critical sectors, harmonize regulations to reduce compliance burdens, ensure public-private collaboration is able to defend critical infrastructure and essential services, and defend and modernize federal networks and incident response policies.
    • Disrupting and dismantling threat actors. Under the Strategy, tools will be strategically employed to disrupt adversaries, and the private sector will be used to disrupt activities. Ransomware threats will also be addressed through a comprehensive federal approach “in lockstep” with international partners.
    • Shaping market forces to drive security and resilience. In an effort “to reduce risk and shift the consequences of poor cybersecurity away from the most vulnerable,” the Strategy proposes to (i) promote privacy and security of personal data; (ii) “[shift] liability for software products and services to promote secure development practices”; and (iii) ensure investments in new infrastructure are supported by federal grant programs.
    • Investing in a resilient future. The Strategy promotes coordinated, collaborative actions for reducing systemic technical vulnerabilities across the digital ecosystem and improving resiliency against transnational digital repression. The Strategy also prioritizes cybersecurity research and development for emerging technologies, including postquantum encryption, digital identity solutions, and clean energy infrastructure, and stresses the importance of developing a diverse, robust national cyber workforce.
    • Forging international partnerships to pursue shared goals. The Strategy intends to leverage international coalitions and partnerships to counter threats to the digital ecosystem through the use of joint preparedness, response, and cost imposition, which will enable partners to better defend themselves against cyber threats. The U.S. will also work with international partners to create secure, reliable global information and communications technology supply chains and operational technology products and services.

    While “next-generation technologies are reaching maturity at an accelerating pace, creating new pathways for innovation while increasing digital interdependencies,” the announcement warned that state and non-state actors are developing and executing campaigns that threaten the digital ecosystem. The Biden administration’s Strategy aims to address those threats.

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Federal Issues Biden Of Interest to Non-US Persons Fintech

  • FHA reduces mortgage insurance premiums to improve home affordability

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 22, FHA announced a 30 basis point reduction in the annual premium charged to mortgage borrowers, resulting in mortgage insurance premiums of 0.55 percent for most borrowers seeking FHA-insured mortgages (down from 0.85 percent). (See also Mortgagee Letter 2023-05.) The reduction will apply to nearly all FHA-insured Single Family Title II forward mortgages, and is applicable to all eligible property types including single family homes, condominiums, and manufactured homes, all eligible loan-to-value ratios, and all eligible base loan amounts. According to the announcement, the reduction is intended to build on steps taken by the Biden administration to make homeownership more affordable and accessible, particularly for households of color, and could save an estimated 850,000 borrowers an average of $800 annually. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last September HUD modified FHA’s underwriting policies to allow lenders to consider a first-time homebuyer’s positive rental payment history as an additional factor in determining eligibility for an FHA-insured mortgage, and in March, the Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity Task Force outlined steps for addressing alleged racial bias in home appraisals (covered by InfoBytes here). Additional actions taken by HUD to improve homeownership accessibility can be found here.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues HUD FHA Consumer Finance Mortgages Mortgage Insurance Mortgage Insurance Premiums Biden

  • EU says EU-US Data Privacy Framework lacks adequate protections

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On February 14, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs released a draft motion for a resolution concerning the adequacy of protections afforded under the EU-US Data Privacy Framework. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last October President Biden signed an Executive Order on Enhancing Safeguards for United States Signals Intelligence Activities (E.O.) to address the facilitation of transatlantic data flows between the EU and the U.S. The E.O. also outlined bolstered commitments that the U.S. will take under the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework (a replacement for the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield). In 2020, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) annulled the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield after determining that, because the requirements of U.S. national security, public interest, and law enforcement have “primacy” over the data protection principles of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, data transferred under the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield would not be subject to the same level of protections prescribed by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

    In the draft resolution, the Committee urged the European Commission not to adopt any new adequacy decisions needed for the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework to officially take effect. According to the Committee, the framework “fails to create actual equivalence in the level of protection” provided to EU residents’ transferred data. Among other things, the Committee found that the government surveillance backstops outlined in the E.O. “are not in line” with “long-standing key elements of the EU data protection regime as related to principles of proportionality and necessity.” The Committee also expressed concerns that “these principles will be interpreted solely in light of [U.S.] law and legal traditions” and appear to take a “broad interpretation” to proportionality. The Committee also flagged concerns that the framework does not establish an obligation to notify EU residents that their personal data has been processed, “thereby undermining their right to access or rectify their data.” Additionally, “the proposed redress process does not provide for an avenue for appeal in a federal court,” thereby removing the possibility for EU residents to claim damages. Moreover, “remedies available for commercial matters” are “largely left to the discretion of companies, which can select alternative remedy avenues such as dispute resolution mechanisms or the use of companies’ privacy [programs],” the Committee said.

    The Committee called on the Commission “to continue negotiations with its [U.S.] counterparts with the aim of creating a mechanism that would ensure such equivalence and which would provide the adequate level of protection required by Union data protection law and the Charter as interpreted by the CJEU,” and urged the Commission “not to adopt the adequacy finding.”

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Of Interest to Non-US Persons EU Consumer Protection EU-US Data Privacy Framework Biden GDPR

  • Biden administration presents roadmap for mitigating crypto risks

    Federal Issues

    On January 27, the Biden administration presented a roadmap for mitigating cryptocurrency risks to ensure that cryptocurrencies do not undermine financial stability, investors are protected, and bad actors are held accountable. At President Biden’s direction, the administration previously laid out a comprehensive framework for developing digital assets in a safe, responsible way that also identifies clear risks. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The administration identified clear risks taken by some crypto entities, such as ignoring applicable financial regulations and basic risk controls, misleading consumers, having conflicts of interest, failing to provide adequate disclosures, or committing fraud. The roadmap also outlined actions taken by the federal banking agencies, including a recently issued joint interagency statement that highlighted key risks banks should consider when choosing to engage in crypto-related services and a notice of proposed rulemaking issued by the FDIC warning companies against making false or misleading claims about digital assets being insured by the agency (covered by InfoBytes here and here). The administration also noted that agencies across the government are developing public-awareness programs to help consumers understand the risks associated with digital assets.

    The administration stressed, however, that further action is needed. Priorities for digital asset research and development will be unveiled in the coming months, the administration said, adding that Congress should also step up efforts in this space. This includes expanding regulators’ powers to prevent misuses of customers’ assets, “strengthen[ing] transparency and disclosure requirements for cryptocurrency companies so that investors can make more informed decisions about financial and environmental risks,” “strengthen[ing] penalties for violating illicit-finance rules and subject cryptocurrency intermediaries to bans against tipping off criminals,” and limiting crypto risks to the financial system by following steps outlined in a recent Financial Stability Oversight Council report (covered by InfoBytes here), the administration said.

    Federal Issues Digital Assets Biden Cryptocurrency Risk Management

  • Biden administration releases Renters Bill of Rights

    Federal Issues

    On January 25, the Biden administration announced new actions for enhancing tenant protections and furthering fair housing principles, which align with the administration’s Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights that was released the same day. The Blueprint and fact sheet lay out several new actions that federal agencies and state and local partners will take to protect tenants and increase housing affordability and access.

    • The FTC and CFPB will collect information to identify practices that unfairly prevent applicants and tenants from accessing or staying in housing, “including the creation and use of tenant background checks, the use of algorithms in tenant screenings, the provision of adverse action notices by landlords and property management companies, and how an applicant’s source of income factors into housing decisions.” According to the White House, this marks the first time the FTC has issued a request for information that explores unfair practices in the rental market. The data will inform enforcement and policy actions under each agency’s jurisdiction.
    • The CFPB will issue guidance and coordinate enforcement actions with the FTC to ensure information in the credit reporting system is accurate and to hold background check companies accountable for having unreasonable procedures.
    • The FHFA will launch a transparent public process for examining “proposed actions promoting renter protections and limits on egregious rent increases for future investments.” Periodic updates, including one within the next six months will be provided to interested stakeholders. FHFA Director Sandra L. Thompson commented that the agency “will conduct a public stakeholder engagement process to identify tangible solutions for addressing the affordability challenges renters are facing nationwide, particularly among underserved communities. The proposals discussed during this process will focus on properties financed by [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac].” She noted that FHFA will continue to evaluate Fannie and Freddie’s role in providing tenant protections and advancing affordable housing opportunities.
    • The DOJ intends to hold a workshop to inform potential guidance updates centered on anti-competitive information sharing, including within the rental market space.
    • HUD will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking to require public housing authorities and owners of project-based rental assistance properties to provide tenants at least 30 days’ advanced notice before terminating a lease due to nonpayment.
    • The Biden administration will also hold quarterly meetings with a diverse group of tenants and tenant advocates to share ideas on ways to strengthen tenant protections.

    According to the announcement, the agencies’ actions exemplify the principles laid out in the Blueprint, which underscores key tenant protections, including: (i) renters should be able to access safe, quality, accessible, and affordable housing; (ii) renters should be provided clear and fair leases with defined rental terms, rights, and responsibilities; (iii) federal, state, and local governments should ensure renters are aware of their rights and are protected from unlawful discrimination and exclusion; (iv) renters should be given the freedom to organize without obstruction or harassment from housing providers or property managers; and (v) renters should be able to access resources to prevent evictions, ensure eviction proceedings are fair, and avoid future housing instability.

    The administration also announced it is launching a related “Resident-Centered Housing Challenge”—a call to action for housing providers and other stakeholders to strengthen their practices and make independent commitments that will improve the quality of life for renters. The Challenge will launch this spring and encourages states, local, tribal, and territorial governments to improve existing fair housing policies and develop new ones.

    Federal Issues Biden Tenant Rights Consumer Finance FHFA CFPB FTC Fair Housing DOJ HUD Fannie Mae Freddie Mac

  • States file brief in support of Biden’s student loan debt-relief program


    On January 11, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general from Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District Of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in two pending actions concerning challenges to the Department of Education’s student loan debt relief program. At the beginning of December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal of an injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that temporarily prohibits the Secretary of Education from discharging any federal loans under the agency’s student debt relief plan (covered by InfoBytes here). In a brief unsigned order, the Supreme Court deferred the Biden administration’s application to vacate, pending oral argument. Shortly after, the Supreme Court also granted a petition for certiorari in a challenge currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, announcing it will consider whether the respondents (individuals whose loans are ineligible for debt forgiveness under the plan) have Article III standing to bring the challenge, as well as whether the Department of Education’s debt relief plan is “statutorily authorized” and “adopted in a procedurally proper manner” (covered by InfoBytes here). Oral arguments in both cases are scheduled for February 28.

    The states first pointed out that under the Higher Education Act, Congress gave the Secretary “broad authority both to determine borrowers’ loan repayment obligations and to modify or discharge these obligations in myriad circumstances.” The Secretary was also later granted statutory authority under the HEROES Act to take action in times of national emergency, which includes allowing “the Secretary to ‘waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs’ if the Secretary ‘deems’ such actions ‘necessary’ to ensure that borrowers affected by a national emergency ‘are not placed in a worse position financially’ with respect to their student loans.” The states stressed that while “the magnitude of the national emergency necessitating this relief is unprecedented, the relief offered to borrowers falls squarely within the authority Congress gave the Secretary to address such emergencies and is similar in kind to relief granted pursuant to other important federal student loan policies that have concomitantly advanced our state interests.”

    The states went on to explain that the Secretary tailored the limited debt relief using income thresholds to ensure that “the borrowers at greatest risk of pandemic-related defaults receive critical relief, either by eliminating their loan obligations or reducing them to a more manageable level,” thus meeting the express goal of the HEROES Act to “prevent[] affected borrowers from being placed in a worse position because of a national emergency.” The states also stressed that the Secretary reasonably concluded that targeted relief is necessary to address the impending rise in pandemic-related defaults once repayment restarts. The HEROES Act expressly permits the Secretary to “exercise his modification and waiver authority ‘notwithstanding any other provision of law, unless enacted with specific reference to [20 U.S.C. § 1098bb(a)(1)],” the states asserted, noting that “relevant statutory and regulatory provisions related to student loan repayment and cancellation contain no such express limiting language.”

    Secretary Miguel Cardona issued the following statement in response to the filing of more than a dozen amicus curiae briefs: “The broad array of organizations and experts—representing diverse communities and different perspectives—supporting our case before the Supreme Court today reflects the strength of our legal positions versus the fundamentally flawed lawsuits aimed at denying millions of working and middle-class borrowers debt relief.” A summary of the briefs can be accessed here.

    Courts State Issues State Attorney General Department of Education Student Lending Debt Relief Consumer Finance U.S. Supreme Court Biden Covid-19 HEROES Act Higher Education Act Appellate Fifth Circuit Eighth Circuit

  • VA to update appraisal requirements and guidance for guaranteed housing loans

    Federal Issues

    On December 27, President Biden signed H.R. 7735, the Improving Access to the VA Home Loan Benefit Act of 2022, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to update its regulations, requirements, and guidance related to appraisals for housing loans guaranteed by the agency. The regulations and requirements must specify when an appraisal is required, how an appraisal is to be conducted, and who is eligible to conduct an appraisal for such loans. The Act also requires the VA to submit recommendations to Congress no later than 90 days after the date of enactment for improving appraisal delivery times for VA loans. The agency must consider these recommendations when it prescribes its updated regulations and requirements. Additionally, the VA must provide guidance for desktop appraisals, taking into account situations where a desktop appraisal could provide cost savings for borrowers whereas “a traditional appraisal requirement could cause time delays and jeopardize the completion of a transaction.”

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation Appraisal Department of Veterans Affairs Biden

  • Senate confirms Gruenberg, FDIC board members

    Federal Issues

    On December 19, the U.S. Senate confirmed Martin J. Gruenberg to be a board member and chairman of the FDIC. Gruenberg has served as acting chairman since former chair, Jelena McWilliams, resigned a year ago. Since joining the FDIC Board of Directors in 2005, Gruenberg has served as vice chairman, chairman, and acting chairman. Prior to joining the FDIC, Gruenberg served on the staff of the Senate Banking  Committee as senior counsel of the full committee, and as staff director of the Subcommittee on International Finance and Monetary Policy. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    The senators also voted to confirm Travis Hill as vice chairman and Jonathan McKernan as an FDIC board member. As previously covered by InfoBytes, during his tenure at the FDIC, Hill previously served as senior advisor to the chairman and deputy to the chairman for policy. Prior to that, Hill served as senior counsel at the Senate Banking Committee. Jonathan McKernan is a senior counsel at the FHFA and currently is on detail from the agency to the Senate Banking Committee where he is counsel on the minority staff. Previously, McKernan served as a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Treasury Department.

    On January 5, Gruenberg was sworn in as the 22nd FDIC chairman. The same day, Hill was sworn in as vice chairman and McKernan as a board member.


    Federal Issues FDIC U.S. Senate Biden

  • CSBS says FDIC board nominees lack state bank regulatory expertise

    Federal Issues

    On November 29, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors sent a letter to Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to express their disappointment that none of the nominees to the FDIC Board of Directors have state bank supervisory experience. Last month, President Biden nominated Martin Gruenberg, who has been serving as acting chairman, to serve as chair and member of the board, and in September, Travis Hill and Jonathan McKernan were nominated to fill the board’s two vacant seats (covered by InfoBytes here and here). At the time of the announcement, CSBS President and CEO James M. Cooper issued a statement encouraging the U.S. Senate to ask nominees how they intend to work with state bank regulators. Cooper reiterated in his follow-up letter that the FDI Act requires that at least one board member have state bank supervisory experience, especially since having the Comptroller of the Currency seated on the board represents the interest of national banks. According to Cooper, fulfilling this statutory requirement “can only be met by a person who has worked in state government as a supervisor of state-chartered banks, and as the legislative history notes, [is] someone with ‘state bank regulatory expertise and sensitivity to the issues confronting the dual banking system.’” Cooper asked that the slate of nominees confirmed by the Senate includes at least one individual who fulfills this requirement.

    The following day, during the Senate Banking Committee’s nomination hearing, Republican senators questioned Gruenberg’s role in a dispute between Democratic board members and former Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams related to a joint request for information seeking public comment on revisions to the FDIC’s framework for vetting proposed bank mergers. McWilliams eventually announced her resignation at the end of last year (covered by InfoBytes here). Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) called Gruenberg’s participation in the dispute “very disturbing,” and expressed concerns that his actions, along with some of his colleagues, “really undermines the [] FDIC and could have lasting implications.” Gruenberg countered that under the FDI Act, “the authority of the agency explicitly is vested in the board of directors, and the majority of the board has the authority to place items before the board.”

    Some Republican senators also raised concerns with Gruenberg’s past involvement in Operation Choke Point, with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) requesting that Gruenberg commit to actively preventing FDIC employees from “criticizing, discouraging or prohibiting banks from lending or doing business with any industries or customers that are operating in accordance with the law.” Gruenberg agreed to do so, saying this has been the FDIC’s policy. The FDIC’s current approach to cryptocurrency was also addressed, while Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) took issue with the fact that none of the board nominees fulfill the Biden administration’s push for diversity and inclusion.

    Federal Issues State Issues Senate Banking Committee CSBS FDIC Biden

  • Supreme Court to fast-track review of student debt relief program


    On December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal of an injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that temporarily prohibits the Secretary of Education from discharging any federal loans under the agency’s student debt relief plan (announced in August and covered by InfoBytes here). In a brief unsigned order, the Supreme Court deferred the Biden administration’s application to vacate, pending oral argument. The Supreme Court said it will treat the Biden administration’s application as a “petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment,” and announced a briefing schedule will be established to allow the case to be argued in the February 2023 argument session to resolve the legality of the program.

    The Biden administration filed its application last month asking the Supreme Court to vacate, or at minimum narrow, the 8th Circuit’s injunction. Among other things, the Biden administration claimed that the 8th Circuit failed to “analyze the merits of the respondents’ claims, much less determine they are likely to succeed” when it granted an emergency motion for injunction pending appeal filed by state attorney generals from Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 8th Circuit determined that “the equities strongly favor an injunction considering the irreversible impact the Secretary’s debt forgiveness action would have as compared to the lack of harm an injunction would presently impose,” and pointed to the fact that the collection of student loan payments and the accrual of interest have both been suspended.

    The appellate court’s “erroneous injunction leaves millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo, uncertain about the size of their debt and unable to make financial decisions with an accurate understanding of their future repayment obligations,” the Biden administration said, adding that if the Supreme Court “declines to vacate the injunction, it may wish to construe this application as a petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment, grant the petition, and set the case for expedited briefing and argument this Term to avoid prolonging this uncertainty for the millions of affected borrowers.”

    In its application, the Biden administration argued that the universal injunction was overbroad. The application further argued that the states lack standing because the debt relief plan “does not require respondents to do anything, forbid them from doing anything, or harm them in any other way.” Moreover, the Secretary of Education was acting within the bounds of the HEROES Act when he put together the debt relief plan, the application contended. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a ‘national emergency declared by the President of the United States,’” the application said. “Both the Trump and Biden Administrations previously invoked the HEROES Act to categorically suspend payments and interest accrual on all Department-held loans in light of the pandemic.” The application further argued that the states “have not disputed that those actions were lawful,” and that the Secretary of Education “reasonably ‘deem[ed]’ relief ‘necessary to ensure’ that a subset of these affected individuals—namely, those with lower incomes—‘are not placed in a worse position’ in relation to their student-loan obligations ‘because of their status as affected individuals.’”

    Meanwhile, on December 1, the 5th Circuit denied the Department of Education’s (DOE) opposed motion for stay pending appeal, following a ruling issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas related to whether the agency’s student debt relief plan violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court determined that while the HEROES Act expressly exempts the APA’s notice-and-comment obligations, the court stressed that the HEROES Act “does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program,” and, moreover, does not mention loan forgiveness.

    Earlier, on November 22, the Department of Education (DOE) extended the pause on student loan repayments, interest, and collections in an effort to alleviate uncertainty for borrowers. Saying “it would be deeply unfair to ask borrowers to pay a debt that they wouldn’t have to pay,” the DOE stated that payments will resume 60 days after it is allowed to implement the debt relief plan or the litigation is resolved, explaining that this will give the Supreme Court time to resolve the case during its current term. However, if the debt relief plan has not been implemented and litigation has not been resolved by June 30, 2023, borrowers’ payments will resume 60 days after that, the DOE explained.

    Courts Student Lending Department of Education HEROES Act Appellate Eighth Circuit Biden U.S. Supreme Court Covid-19 Consumer Finance Fifth Circuit


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