FTC Commissioners Push for Federal Privacy Legislation

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During Tuesday’s Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee hearing, Federal Trade Commissioners were unanimous in their call for Congress to explore Federal data privacy legislation.

At a hearing of the committee’s Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security subcommittee, the FTC commissioners also pushed for increasing funding for the agency.

In his opening testimony, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons expressed strong support for Federal data privacy legislation and called on Congress to move legislation. He also pledged to vigorously enforce existing laws and statutes. Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal, D-N.Y., also expressed interest in Federal data privacy legislation, explaining that they were jointly working on writing a bill.

Commissioner Noah Phillips argued that when designing potential data privacy legislation, Congress must first know what harms it is trying to right. He said that while scandals and companies may dominate news cycles–likely a nod toward Facebook and other social media platforms–Federal legislation has wide-reaching impacts. In that vein, he urged Congress to keep “small business and startups in mind” when considering new legislation.

Phillips also addressed the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and cautioned Congress against using it as the basis for U.S. privacy legislation, saying he worries it has chilled innovation within the EU.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the full committee, used his questioning time to further explore Federal data privacy legislation. He first asked if the commissioners support Congress exploring new Federal data privacy legislation–all of the commissioners said yes. He then asked what features should be included in the legislation. Simons specifically mentioned giving the FTC civil penalty authority against companies that violate privacy laws and regulations. The new authority would give the FTC an effective means of deterrence, he said.

In his initial line of questioning, Sen. Moran, asked Simons if the FTC had adequate resources to carry out its mission effectively and efficiently. Simons replied that while he believes the agency has sufficient resources, it could put more to good use including beefing up the agency’s litigation efforts, Bureau of Economics, and technology resources.

Commissioner Rohit Chopra stressed that when cities grow and expand “they hire more cops,” and he said that the FTC needs to do the same.

Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said she agreed with what Simons said he would do with additional resources, but disagreed with Simons’ assertion that the commission has enough resources. Rather, she said additional resources are needed to do the job “consumers and Congress expects of us,” and that hiring more technologists would help in that effort.

Moran said that while he hears from nearly every agency that they need more resources, he is particularly sympathetic to the FTC’s plea because the volume and complexity of its work is growing.

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