Antitrust Law Daily FTC commissioners talk privacy at oversight hearing
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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

FTC commissioners talk privacy at oversight hearing

By Stephanie K. Mann, J.D.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection heard from all five commissioners on the agency’s work on privacy and data security matters.

In an effort to better protect Americans privacy rights and data security, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce held a hearing on May 8 to discuss the efforts of the FTC to effectively protect consumers and promote competition, while anticipating and responding to changes in the marketplace. The hearing, “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission: Strengthening Protections for Americans’ Privacy and Data Security,” heard testimony from all five commissioners of the FTC: Chairman Joseph J. Simons and Commissioners Noah Joshua Phillips, Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, and Christine S. Wilson.

In his opening remarksCommittee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) acknowledged that the FTC plays “a critical role in protecting American consumers and promoting competition in the marketplace.” Faced with the daunting job of being the primary enforcer of privacy and data security, Pallone urged Congress to give the FTC the tools that it needs to be more effective. For instance, the FTC has fewer employees now than it did in the 1980s, before the advent of the Internet. This includes an increase in budget to increase its employee-base and grant additional authority agency to “prevent privacy abuses from happening in the first place and to ensure that companies properly secure the personal data entrusted to them.”

Finally, Pallone urged Congress to pass strong, comprehensive privacy legislation to give consumers control over their personal data, including giving consumers the ability to access, correct, and delete their personal information.

FTC testimony. According to the agency’s press release, the commissioners testified that the FTC is committed to using its resources as efficiently as possible, and to that end, agency enforcement actions helped return more than $1.6 billion during the 2018 fiscal year, including more than 65 data security cases and 60 privacy cases. The testimony also notes that the FTC has expanded its focus on privacy to reflect the growing collection, use, and sharing of consumer data in the commercial marketplace. To that end, the commissioners echoed Pallone’s call for comprehensive privacy and data security legislation that would grant the agency civil penalty authority, targeted Administrative Procedure Act rulemaking authority, and jurisdiction over non-profits and common carriers.

The FTC testimony also described its other antitrust enforcement actions in many sectors that directly affect consumers and their wallets, such as healthcare, consumer products and services, technology, manufacturing, and energy. Additionally, commissioners referred to the FTC’s Bureau of Competition recently announced creation of a Technology Task Force to more closely monitor competition in the technology sector. The Task Force will examine industry practices, conduct law enforcement investigations, and coordinate and consult with staff throughout the FTC on technology-related matters, including prospective merger reviews and reviews of consummated technology mergers.

Authority of FTC. At the hearing, the Commission renewed its calls for additional civil penalty authority and jurisdiction over common carriers. While Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) supported increased authority and additional funding for the agency, there were skeptics. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) said that the FTC “should not be transformed from law enforcement agency into a massive rulemaking regime.”

MainStory: TopStory ConsumerProtection FederalTradeCommissionNews Privacy

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