May 16, 2018 / 10:45 PM / 2 months ago

Democrats on FTC vote no on consumer protection appointee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The two Democrats on the five-member Federal Trade Commission voted to oppose the appointment of a lawyer tapped to head the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection because of his previous work for Equifax and other companies being probed by the agency.

With support from the Republican Chairman Joe Simons and two Republican commissioners, the agency named Andrew Smith to be the agency’s top consumer watchdog.

The commissioners voted unanimously to name Bruce Hoffman to head the head of the Bureau of Competition, a post that he has held on an acting basis. They also voted to name Bruce Kobayashi, who teaches at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, to head the Bureau of Economics.

Simons said that he was “disappointed” that the two Democratic commissioners, Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter, had turned Smith’s appointment “into a source of unnecessary controversy.”

Some consumer advocates and Democratic lawmakers had expressed concern about Smith’s appointment because of his work for the Consumer Data Industry Association, whose members include credit reporting companies like Equifax, which is under FTC scrutiny following a massive data breach last year.

Smith, a partner at Covington and Burling, LLP, will be recused from the Equifax probe and perhaps others.

Before joining the law firm Covington and Burling, LLP, Smith worked for the FTC in enacting a law aimed at improving the accuracy of consumers’ credit records.

Slaughter said that she voted against Smith because he would be recused from the Equifax probe and perhaps others.

“I am concerned that selecting a director for the Bureau of Consumer Protection who is barred from leading on data privacy and security matters ... potentially undermines the public’s confidence in the commission’s ability to fulfill its mission,” she wrote.

The other FTC Democrat, Rohit Chopra, agreed.

“The director should be our quarterback on the agency’s top priorities. But I fear our quarterback will be spending too much time on the sidelines,” he wrote.

In addition to the Equifax probe, the FTC is also reviewing whether Facebook violated a 2011 FTC consent decree over its privacy practices following allegations that Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to user data for 50 million people without users being notified.

Uber [UBER.UL] has settled with the FTC over a 2016 cyber security hack and over allegations that it misled drivers about potential earnings.

Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by G Crosse

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