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FTC Signals Willingness to Write Privacy Rules Without Congress

April 20, 2021, 9:43 PM

Federal Trade Commission officials signaled that they would move forward with new rules protecting consumer data as lawmakers in Congress continue to debate the issue.

Christine Wilson, a Republican FTC commissioner, said at a hearing Tuesday that she supported an agency effort to write rules “in the absence of congressional action” and “in the face of continuing harm” to consumers.

“Inaction is not an option,” Wilson told lawmakers on the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Her comments show bipartisan backing for an agency initiative launched by Acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, a Democrat, that focuses on writing new consumer protection rules. The commission is under pressure to act as recent state-level efforts to protect the privacy of consumer data underscore the need for a federal standard.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who leads the Senate committee, and Sen. Roger Wicker, (R-Miss.), the panel’s ranking member, have floated privacy bills in the past. Both their bills would allow consumers to access and correct their data, though they split over whether a federal law should override laws in states like California.

Privacy advocates have urged the FTC to act on its own instead. The commission can write rules, but it must follow a more cumbersome process than other federal agencies. In addition to providing notice and allowing for public comments before proposed rules are finalized, the FTC process includes further steps, such as giving Congress notice and holding public hearings.

Wilson told the committee she would rather start that process, even if Congress acts sooner.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kibkabe Araya at karaya@bloombergindustry.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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