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Joe Biden to nominate facial recognition critic to FTC

President Joe Biden is expected to nominate privacy hawk Alvaro Bedoya to the Federal Trade Commission, as first reported by Axios on Monday.

Bedoya is a professor at Georgetown University’s law school, focusing on privacy law. If confirmed, he would replace current Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who was nominated to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earlier this year. In 2014, Bedoya founded Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology. He also served as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law under the chairmanship of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).

A naturalized immigrant from Peru, Bedoya has researched the effects of technologies like facial recognition on minority groups. The Center on Privacy and Technology was particularly critical of facial recognition during his tenure, producing several surveys of the technology’s expanding scope and potential for racial bias. In 2015, Bedoya, along with eight other advocates, withdrew from a Commerce Department privacy and facial recognition forum, arguing that the project would not do enough to protect consumers.

Bedoya’s expected nomination comes at a time when the FTC has faced heightened scrutiny over its light-handed approach to privacy regulation. In 2019, the FTC settled with Facebook over its Cambridge Analytica scandal, securing a $5 billion fine and a number of new consumer protection promises. Despite the large number, the settlement was seen by many, including Democratic commissioners, as not going for enough.

At the time, Chopra issued a statement saying, “The settlement imposes no meaningful changes to the company’s structure or financial incentives.”

In July, the FTC approved a new rulemaking process that could make it easier for the agency to enact new privacy rules on its own — without the help of Congress. If confirmed, Bedoya would likely help guide any new privacy-related rulemakings.

The White House has yet to formally nominate Bedoya, as of publication. Once nominated, the Senate Commerce Committee would likely hold a confirmation hearing for Bedoya before voting to approve the nomination.

FTC Chair Lina Khan was officially confirmed by the Senate in June. Over the last few months, she has laid out an aggressive antitrust agenda for the agency, especially as it pertains to the tech industry.

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