FTC official recuses self from cybersecurity case

A commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) won’t be involved in an effort to hold a medical lab responsible for a data breach that exposed the personal details of nearly 10,000 patients.

FTC Commissioner Julie Brill said in a statement this week that she was recusing herself from the LabMD case in order to avoid an “undue distraction” from the issue.

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In recent weeks, LabMD and the watchdog organization Cause of Action, which is representing the testing lab, had unearthed speeches in which Brill referenced the ongoing case as an example of ways the FTC was cracking down on lax cybersecurity. They had requested Brill be disqualified from the case.

“Commissioner Brill has told the world that LabMD failed to secure consumer information and violated the law ... No neutral judge with any regard for the due process requirement of avoiding the appearance of bias and prejudgment would ever say such things about a pending case,” the company said in a motion filed earlier this month.

Brill denied wrongdoing but nonetheless agreed to step aside.

“My speeches are designed to inform the public of the many enforcement activities that the Commission undertakes to protect consumers’ privacy and security interests,” she said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon

“Nevertheless, I am concerned that full adjudication of the Motion to Disqualify ... would likely create an undue distraction from the important issues raised in the Commission’s administrative complaint against LabMD. Allowing such a distraction to further complicate or delay adjudication of this matter would not serve the public interest.”

The FTC is trying to hold the Atlanta-based laboratory liable for not adequately protecting Americans’ personal information.

In August, the agency claimed that a LabMD spreadsheet with Social Security numbers, medical codes and other information about more than 9,000 people was found on an online file-sharing network last year.