Terratrue understands the Federal Trade Commission

May 16, 2022

Why the Bedoya news is a big deal for privacy rights


It’s been months in the making, but on May 11, the U.S. Senate finally confirmed Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC in a 51-50 vote.

Bedoya comes to the agency during a time when its leadership is coming under heat. Democratic Chair Lina Khan, who took office in June 2021, came in aces blazing. As Politico reported, she promised to crack down on big tech mergers and introduce an FTC that’s focused on action. She’s been critical of the agency in the past for going light on tech monopolies. For privacy advocates, however, Khan’s appointment is a victory. At the recent IAPP Global Privacy Summit, Khan admonished big tech companies for business models that rely on vacuuming up user data and selling it. She said she plans to introduce a new enforcement paradigm in the U.S. around data privacy, even going so far as to outline plans to hold C-suite executives accountable for privacy missteps, or mandating that companies that violate FTC rules delete their business model’s algorithm.

But without Bedoya’s confirmation, Khan only had four of the required five commissioners. With Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter and now Bedoya, Khan has the Democratic majority she needs to check things off her progressive – and some say aggressive – agenda.

The appointment comes at a time when data privacy couldn’t be more important. The U.S. still doesn’t have a federal privacy law, and tech firms are vacuuming up data like dollar bills. Khan will need Bedoya to reform the agency’s enforcement habits.

In privacy advocates’ minds, there couldn’t be a better pick than Bedoya. He’s known in the DC circuit and beyond as a fiercely kind, thoughtful, and fair thinker. And even if privacy rights aren’t your thing, there’s no arguing with his resume: He went to Harvard undergrad and then Yale Law. He’s the child of Peruvian immigrants, himself a naturalized U.S. citizen.

His work in privacy first made headlines when he worked as the chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. He pushed forward the kinds of issues the law wasn’t even ready to approach yet but needed to be. He tackled issues like facial recognition, mobile location privacy, and drafted portions of the USA FREEDOM Act, which reformed U.S. surveillance law.

After his time in the Senate, Bedoya joined Georgetown Law and founded the Center on Privacy & Technology. There, he co-authored a paper that would have an almost immediate impact. “The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America” was the result of a yearlong look at police use of facial recognition, which found deeply disturbing data illustrating that facial recognition software vendors were, and are, deploying products that frequently misidentified minorities and women. That’s a dangerous fact when police are using the software to make arrests. The report called on Congress to regulate the vendors’ algorithms before the technology became even more pervasive. In the subsequent months and years, lawmakers leaned on the report in a series of hearings over law enforcement’s use of facial recognition.

While Bedoya is known perhaps first and foremost in DC for his benevolence, he’s also not afraid to walk the walk. As The Verge reported, in 2015, Bedoya withdrew from a U.S. Commerce Department initiative inviting tech companies and advocates to create a code of conduct for facial recognition technologies because, as he and other advocates wrote, “people deserve more protection than they are likely to get in this forum.”

He’s also been vocal about the need for a federal privacy law and critical of big tech companies. In an op-ed for The New York Times in 2018, he slammed Facebook for its lobbying efforts to thwart what’s now the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act as well as the CCPA.

“We cannot underestimate the tech sector’s power in Congress and state legislatures,” Bedoya wrote. “If the United States tries to pass broad rules for personal data, that effort may well be co-opted by Silicon Valley, and we’ll miss our best shot at meaningful privacy protections.”

That perspective, energy, and leadership will be essential to Khan, who’s promised to reign in big tech and has called for a federal privacy law here in the U.S.

While Republicans worked hard to block Bedoya’s nomination, that’s perhaps a reflection of the punch a Bedoya/Khan roster might pack. If you’re interested in U.S. consumers’ privacy rights, this just might be the team to get things done.

They’re sure going to fight to do so; that much is clear.

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