FTC nominees promise a focus on data breaches

FTC nominees promise a focus on data breaches
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE’s slate of nominees for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans on making data breaches a top priority for the agency if they are confirmed.

“They’re becoming much more significant, much more frequent, and I think that’s a real serious concern for us and I think we need to pay much more attention to it,” said Joseph Simons — a Republican antitrust lawyer nominated to chair the FTC — at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday.

The issue has been getting renewed attention following a year in which companies like Equifax and Uber revealed massive data breaches exposing millions of consumers. The Equifax breach gave hackers sensitive personal information of more than 145 million people. And last year, Yahoo revealed that all of its 3 billion accounts were affected in a 2013 hack. 

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The FTC, which is tasked with enforcing consumer protection and antitrust laws, has been operating with just two of its five commission seats filled with holdovers from the Obama administration since Trump took office over a year ago.

Wednesday’s hearing was a small step towards returning the agency to its full strength. Trump nominated Simons and three others — two Republicans and one Democrat — to the FTC last month. He will still need to nominate one more Democrat for the FTC to be filled.

Aside from Simons, Trump nominated Noah Phillips, an aide to Sen. John CornynJohn CornynRussians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit Top GOP senator: Trump should be 'clear-eyed' going into meeting with Putin Doug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee MORE (R-Texas); Christine Wilson, a Delta Airlines executive; and Rohit Chopra, the sole Democrat in the group who most recently was a fellow at the Consumer Federation of America.

The agency has been getting renewed attention from the tech world lately as it will likely soon become the top watchdog for an open internet following the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of its net neutrality rules, ceding jurisdiction over anticompetitive behavior from internet service providers.

Simons promised on Wednesday to be vigilant about potential abuses from companies like Verizon and Comcast.

“My view is that the FTC, if it gets back its authority in the internet space, is going to be a vigorous enforcer,” he said. “We’re going to take the statutory authority that we have and use it as best we can.”

Net neutrality supporters argue, however, that the FTC’s authority is more limited than the FCC’s, which is able to establish rules over the industries it oversees.

The nominees largely tiptoed around questions about their views on tech giants like Facebook and Google, which are facing growing calls to have their massive size checked by regulators. Two Commerce Committee Republicans, Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review MORE (S.D.) and Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Memo: Trump leaves chaos in his wake in UK Beto O'Rourke is dominating Ted Cruz in enthusiasm and fundraising — but he's still headed for defeat GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (Texas), asked whether Silicon Valley needed more scrutiny.

“At a high level, I believe that big is not necessarily bad but I also believe that big is not necessarily good,” Simons said, though he added that regulators should look to where market power is most concentrated when deciding where to focus their enforcement efforts.

Chopra, the Democrat, hinted that he thinks the tech giants may deserve a tougher approach from regulators.

“Unlike most sectors of the economy, large technology firms don’t just compete with each other, they’re competing with several other market verticals and sectors of the economy,” Chopra said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the Commerce consumer protection subcommittee, said that the FTC has a unique position to promote the growing movement to challenge tech giants and other corporate behemoths that have come to dominate the economy.

“I think there’s a real opportunity for this new populism that we see sweeping the country to be articulated, and in fact enforced, through your advocacy going beyond your narrow legal jurisdiction,” Blumenthal said.