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Bedoya’s Privacy, Civil Rights Work Foreshows Potential FTC Focus

Sept. 14, 2021, 9:16 AM

Georgetown University law professor Alvaro Bedoya is likely to concentrate on the interplay between privacy and civil rights if confirmed to a seat on the Federal Trade Commission.

Bedoya, whom the White House announced Monday as President Joe Biden‘s intended nominee to replace outgoing Democratic commissioner Rohit Chopra, has written and worked on issues including bias in facial recognition technology and surveillance of American immigrants.

“He really is someone who sits at the intersection of privacy, technology, and civil rights,” said David Brody, senior counsel and senior fellow for privacy and technology at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

With Bedoya as a commissioner, the agency is expected to shine a light on how facial recognition and other artificial intelligence technologies can lead to discrimination by race or other characteristics, Brody said.

The commission in April warned that discriminatory algorithms could violate Section 5 of the FTC Act, which regulates unfair and deceptive business practices, and laws governing credit decisions for loans. Brody said the agency will probably prioritize this issue, with a potential focus on how models based on personal data that reflects existing biases can contribute to discriminatory advertising and discrimination in companies’ hiring practices.

Bedoya would join the commission under its newly installed chair, Lina Khan, an advocate of aggressive antitrust enforcement against big tech platforms who’s expected to examine how consumer data collection contributes to the dominance of U.S. tech giants.

“What Chairman Khan is to antitrust, Alvaro Bedoya is to privacy, data protection, and civil rights,” said John Davisson, senior counsel at the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Bedoya’s Background

Bedoya was one of the authors of a 2016 study on facial recognition that showed most American adults are enrolled in a police face recognition network and vendor companies were doing little to address race and gender bias in the technology. The study is credited with helping usher in a wave of state and local regulations restricting police use of facial recognition.

In 2012, the FTC issued a report outlining how companies deploying facial recognition technologies can protect consumer privacy. Since then, the agency “hasn’t done all that much on the enforcement front,” for facial recognition, EPIC’s Davisson said.

Early this year, the commission settled with Everalbum Inc., the maker of a now-defunct photo and video storage app, over allegations that it deceived consumers about its use of facial recognition technology and its retention of content from deactivated accounts. As part of an earlier settlement with Facebook Inc., the FTC also alleged that the social media company misled consumers about a photo-tagging tool that used facial recognition.

Bedoya’s background in facial recognition technology could foreshadow heightened FTC enforcement in that space, Davisson said.

Bedoya’s past work highlighting communities impacted by surveillance technologies also could offer a preview into potential topics of focus for the FTC.

As founding director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology, Bedoya organized a series of events called the Color of Surveillance that looked at government monitoring of immigrants, religious minorities, and gig economy and blue collar workers.

The events provided a platform for hearing from communities impacted by data practices, who are often left out of policymaking discussions, according to Katharina Kopp, deputy director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

“That’s a big aspect of what he’ll bring to the FTC,” Kopp said.

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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