The future composition of the FTC became a bit clearer on Monday, as the White House announced that President Biden will nominate privacy expert and scholar Alvaro Bedoya as FTC commissioner.  If confirmed, Bedoya would take the seat currently held by Commissioner Rohit Chopra, whose nomination as CFPB Director remains pending, and serve in a term that ends in September 2026.

Bedoya is currently a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown and is the Founding Director of Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology (CPT).  Before moving to Georgetown, Bedoya served as Chief Counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.  Bedoya’s background as a privacy expert sends a supportive signal from the White House of broader privacy initiatives at the FTC and bolsters privacy expertise at the Commission level.

With bipartisan support at the Commission  for a privacy rulemaking and more aggressive agency enforcement against “data abuses,” Bedoya could push the FTC to take an even broader view of its role in privacy enforcement and policy development.  To this point, Chair Lina Khan’s statement on Bedoya’s nomination cites his “expertise on surveillance and data security” as being “enormously valuable” to the FTC.

Under Bedoya’s leadership, CPT has tackled a wide range of privacy issues, including commercial practices that are squarely within the FTC’s focus.  For instance, CPT joined more than two dozen organizations on a September 2020 letter urging the FTC to “support further study of data and discrimination in any and all forthcoming 6(b) investigations undertaken by the FTC.”  (In December 2020, the FTC announced that it had sent orders to nine online platforms seeking information about their use of race, ethnicity, and several other factors for ad selection, content selection, and other purposes under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which authorizes the FTC to require annual or special reports from entities.)  Two years earlier, CPT joined a 2018 comment encouraging the FTC to examine the role of “tech giants” in allegedly causing or facilitating discrimination, the spread of misinformation, and other qualitative, broadly distributed hams.

CPT under Bedoya’s watch has also studied privacy and data-related issues that fall outside the FTC’s ambit.  For example, CPT scored law enforcement agencies’ use of face recognition technologies along civil rights and data protection dimensions and filed an amicus brief in federal district court arguing that aerial surveillance conducted by the Baltimore Police Department is unconstitutional.  In writings published under his own name, Bedoya has criticized government agencies’ use of commercial technologies and data for law enforcement and immigration purposes.  In a September 2020 op-ed, for example, Bedoya described a “panoply” of companies that provide data and software that support federal agencies’ immigration enforcement actions.

In addition to pursuing privacy and data security policy under the FTC Act, it’s also likely that Bedoya will examine how the FTC enforces specific privacy laws, such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and related rules.  The Commission recently finalized changes to five rules implementing the FCRA. While those changes were largely technical, they serve as important reminders regarding the host of overlapping obligations imposed on entities under FCRA and FTC and CFPB implementing regulations.

The timeline for Bedoya’s confirmation process is unclear and is likely to depend on further action on Commissioner Chopra’s CFPB nomination.  We will post updates as they occur.

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Privacy Expert Alvaro Bedoya Nominated to FTC

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