WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will nominate law professor Alvaro Bedoya to the Federal Trade Commission, further cementing the consumer-protection agency’s next phase as a check against Big Tech’s power, two people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post.
Bedoya, the founder of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology, has spearheaded pivotal research into how the government’s use of facial recognition software and other surveillance technologies hurt America’s most marginalized groups and threaten civil rights nationwide.
His confirmation would further bolster expectations about the agency’s scrutiny of an industry led by trillion-dollar companies with unprecedented influence over how people live, work and speak. Bedoya declined to comment.
Born in Peru, Bedoya has worked to reframe the debate around emerging surveillance technology from its technical abilities to its most devastating impacts, particularly on immigrants and people of color.
As a staffer for former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Bedoya became the first chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law, which since 2011 has held hearings on location tracking and the opacity of National Security Agency surveillance.
He has been praised on Capitol Hill for his bipartisan approach to privacy as a human right, and his nomination to Silicon Valley’s top watchdog could presage a more aggressive approach to the private sector, particularly in issues of data protection.
Noah Phillips, who worked with Bedoya in the Senate and was nominated by Trump as an FTC commissioner in 2018, said he has not always agreed with Bedoya but found him to be “without fail as bright and thoughtful a person as you could find.”
“I don’t think of him as a person who just gets up and rants about entities he doesn’t like,” Phillips said. He “thinks about the impacts of practices that concern him, engages with people who have views about those practices, and helps maps out a way forward.”
Bedoya’s nomination comes as Biden’s FTC chair, Lina Khan, faces growing pressure from Democrats to more forcefully police the tech giants’ most dominant players, including Amazon and Facebook.
Bedoya’s work could also help the agency further expand its ambitions in safeguarding Americans’ privacy online. House Democrats last week proposed a $1 billion boost of the FTC’s budget to help launch a division to patrol for privacy violations and online abuse.
It is unclear when Bedoya’s confirmation hearings will be scheduled, though it will likely take months. He would replace FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who Biden nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but is still awaiting confirmation.
In the Senate, Bedoya was a key driver of privacy and surveillance as public-interest issues, helping draft legislation and conduct oversight hearings into tech-company practices. He was known for organizing informal Thursday night “pizza and privacy” gatherings, attracting House and Senate staffers from across the aisle.
“He’s never seen privacy as a left or right issue, but as a core civil protection and civil rights concern in a way that can pull together both sides,” said Jeff Zubricki, a longtime Senate staffer who worked with Bedoya and now leads government relations for the online marketplace Etsy. “There’s a whole generation of staffers he’s influenced that are still up there today.”
Later, as a director of Georgetown’s privacy center, Bedoya pushed authoritative studies that would become a centerpiece of Congressional interest and help fuel political movements across the country.
Since 2016, when Bedoya and the researchers Clare Garvie and Jonathan Frankle wrote how unregulated police use of facial recognition had forced Americans into a “perpetual lineup,” more than a dozen states and cities have passed laws banning or restricting its public use.
In recent months, he has been a vocal critic of the digital systems used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to find and track immigrants in the United States, writing columns criticizing the “technology behind ICE’s brutality.”
Consumer and civil rights advocates also celebrated the Bedoya pick. Wade Henderson, the interim president and chief executive of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the country’s biggest civil rights umbrella group, said in a statement that he urged the Senate to quickly confirm his nomination.
“An influential scholar focused on the principle that privacy is a civil right, Professor Bedoya is exactly the leader our country needs right now,” Henderson said.
The Washington Post’s Cat Zakrzewski contributed to this report.