On the main stage of Privacy. Security. Risk., at what some may have expected to be a showdown between reportedly warring regulatory agencies, the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) Jessica Rich and the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC's) Travis LeBlanc shut down those rumors quick.
"Let me say it," LeBlanc said. "There is no Batman vs. Superman. Together, we're the Justice League."
LeBlanc said the agencies work very closely together on enforcement of consumer protection rules, including a monthly coordination call between the two agencies each month.
Rich said the agencies do in fact work very closely and have a long history of working together. She was quick to point out that while in recent history there were headlines over the FCC's perceived aggressive enforcement actions once LeBlanc became chief of enforcement a year and a half ago—perhaps treading on the FTC's enforcement beat a little more closely than the agency would have liked—the FTC is the "only federal agency with a broad consumer protection mission. It has jurisdiction over every sector except banks, telecoms (most of the time) and nonprofits," Rich said.
"Telecoms is just one slice."
LeBlanc said aside from the coordination that already exists, he wants to take it one step further. He wants to see the creation of a federal inter-agency privacy council.
"It would be good for consumers, and it would be good for collaboration," he said to applause.
LeBlanc thinks it should involve all privacy-regulatory agencies "so that we're all in alignment, so it's not duplicative," he said. "We may have overlapping jurisdiction, but it doesn't have to be duplicative. It's very important that we stay coordinated and work together. We've done it well with the FTC and we hope we can do it at a broader level at the federal government."
Rich said the FTC plans to focus a lot of its enforcement attention on new technology and business models, including big data, cross-device tracking and data brokers' sales of sensitive data, among other priorities. LeBlanc said the crux of his vision is "smart enforcement." The agency wants to "focus on the issues that matter most to Americans in the 21st century. We want to be nimble and proactive, not reactive."
To do that kind of work, the FCC has been partnering with agencies at the state and federal level, he said.
"It's very important because we all have scarce resources right now," he said. "By partnering, we enforce regulations across the regulatory spectrum."
In looking ahead to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's pending proposal for rule-making on the obligations of broadband Internet service providers, LeBlanc said his agency is meeting with industry now to shape what the proposal looks like. He asked that those interested in being part of that process approach the FCC now rather than waiting to express concerns once "that train has left the station."
Rich reminded the audience that the rule-making will have no effect on "edge providers," meaning it's only going to effect broadband service providers and not those selling adjacent services. "Those are maintained within our jurisdiction," she said.
She did add, however, that the FTC will continue to push for a repeal of the extension of the "common carrier exemption" to broadband providers, a controversial move by the FCC earlier this year that ignited rumors the FTC would now have to fight for its reputation as data privacy cop.
"We think the exemption is outdated and should be repealed," Rich said. "While the FCC gets penalties, we get redress actions. We think consumers lose out when we are not also the cop on the beat."
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