FTC Chair Simons: Please, Don't Give Us Broad Rulemaking Authority

Federal Trade Commission chair Joseph Simons told Congress that he does not want Congress to give his agency broad rulemaking authority.

Simons was testifying at a House Energy & Commerce Committee Consumer Protection Subcommittee FTC oversight hearing.

He has said the FTC needs more rulemaking authority, but also said that should be targeted authority to implement federal privacy legislation currently being considered by Congress.

"Please do not do it. Do not give us broad rulemaking authority. Give us targeted rulemaking authority," he said when asked by full committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to clarify what authority he was looking for.

Simons told the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee last fall that the Federal Trade Commission needs three things to better protect consumer privacy, 1) rulemaking authority; 2) civil penalty authority—currently it can only try and make consumers whole for losses, not penalize the conduct responsible; and 3) jurisdiction over nonprofits and common carriers.

The FTC once had more rulemaking authority but Congress pulled that back after the agency became politicized, Walden pointed out. Simons said he was similarly concerned with the politicization of the commission.

Related: Privacy Groups Propose New Government Data Protection Agency

Simons said what he wanted was for Congress to come up with bipartisan privacy legislation, define it "fairly well"--perhaps looking at the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act as a model, and "give us targeted rulemaking authority so we can keep it up to date and make technical changes for developments in technology or in business methods."

He said the last thing they wanted was to dump the "big, broad question" on us, which he said was better the province of elected officials.

Walden said that too often, Congress will put the onus on agencies when it can't figure something out, then Congress complains when it doesn't agree with the agency. Walden agreed that it should be on Congress' shoulders to provide as "defined and targeted" authority as possible.

FTC's Simons: We Are Cop on Privacy Beat

The FTC is under pressure from Capitol Hill to enforce consent decrees with edge providers and to look hard at whether the size of Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple and Twitter--have antitrust implications the FTC may have missed in the rise of those companies from scrappy garage startups to companies trying to mine the world's data and with market caps on par with the GDP (rather than GDPR) of some countries.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.