The FTC as Guardian of Privacy and Data Security

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Paul Ohm, May 13, 2014

In this article, I focus my remarks on the FTC’s work on data security and consumer privacy, and especially the privacy of information collected from consumers via the internet. I will not focus on the FTC’s important work in other aspects of consumer protection and competition.

Although vital work on privacy protection takes place throughout federal, state, and local governments, were it not for the activities of the FTC, no agency would play the critical roles of leader, central clearinghouse, and backstop. The FTC is the only agency with the authority and expertise to oversee the many industries that are not regulated specifically by statute. It has been recognized as a peer by the community of data protection authorities from other countries for its central role in American privacy policy. The FTC has become the centerpiece of privacy policy in this country, and I encourage Congress to continue to grant it the tools and authorities it needs to continue to do its job well.

At the outset, consider a simple, important fact: The United States boasts the most innovative, dynamic technology industry in the world. The burbling fount of activity and competition and vibrancy in this industry belies any argument that the FTC has sapped the innovative spirit. Indeed, the FTC has demonstrated that consumer protection and technological dynamism can prosperously coexist.