News, Developments, and Insights

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FTC Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century

I’ll be speaking at the FTC Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century on a panel about consumer data on Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 3:15 PM.

UPDATE: You can see video of my panel at that hearing here.  Here’s a transcript.

My panel information is here:

The Regulation of Consumer Data

Maureen K. Ohlhausen
Federal Trade Commission

Howard Beales
George Washington University School of Business

Daniel Solove
George Washington University Law School

David Vladeck
Georgetown University Law Center

Moderator: James Cooper
Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection

More information about the day’s schedule is here.

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FTC v. AT&T Mobility

FTC v. ATT Mobility

In a very important decision, FTC v. AT&T Mobility (9th Cir. 2018 en banc),  the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit en banc reversed an earlier panel decision that severely limited the FTC’s jurisdiction to protect privacy and data security.  I strongly criticized the panel decision in an previous blog post.

The FTC has taken the lead role in protecting privacy and data security through the FTC Act Section 5, 15 U.S.C. § 45, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts” affecting commerce.  Section 5(a)(2) contains a list of industries that are carved out from FTC jurisdiction. This list includes banks, airlines, and common carriers.  A “common carrier” is defined in the Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. § 153: “The term ‘common carrier’ or ‘carrier’ means any person engaged as a common carrier for hire, in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio or interstate or foreign radio transmission of energy.”  Common carriers are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In FTC v. AT&T Mobility the FTC brought a Section 5 enforcement action against AT&T for a part of AT&T’s business that was not regulated by the FCC.  However, the 9th Circuit panel concluded that the common carrier exception to FTC jurisdiction was status-based — it applied to common carriers no matter what activities they were engaged in.  This means that if a company engages in a non-minor amount of common carrier activities, then everything that it does, including many activities beyond its functions as a common carrier, fall outside the FTC’s power to regulate under Section 5.  Because these are non-common-carrier activities, the FCC often can’t regulate them either.  This opens up an odd no man’s land where a company can engage in certain activities and escape regulatory enforcement while other companies engaging in the same activities cannot.

Here’s what I wrote about why the earlier 9th Circuit panel decision was problematic:

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Chart of FTC Commissioners and Chairpersons 1915-2018

The FTC released the above chart showing the history of Commissioners, Chairwomen and Chairman of the FTC from 1915 through the present day. According to the chart, The Federal Trade Commission is composed of five Commissioners, and their terms extend for seven years. The Commissioners are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. At any given time, not more than three Commissioners may be members of the same political party. The President designates one Commissioner as Chairman, and the Chairman is given the responsibility for the administration of the Commission.

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