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Expected FTC Chair Ramirez Could Push for Global Privacy Rules

During Tenure, Commissioner Has Championed Digital-Data Security and Has Been Voice for Non-English-Speaking Citizens

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The Federal Trade Commission has reportedly chosen a Barack Obama campaign insider, FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez, as its next chairman. Ms. Ramirez has a background steeped in antitrust and competition issues, and served as director of Latino outreach for the Obama 2008 campaign. She has indicated support of comprehensive privacy legislation and robust rules around children's data collection.

In addition, Ms. Ramirez, a bilingual Mexican-American, can be expected to champion globalized approaches to consumer privacy protection and to clamp down on fraudulent marketing aimed at Spanish-speaking communities.

Many believed fellow Commissioner Julie Brill would get the nod to replace former Chairman Jon Leibowitz. However, the fact that the Obama administration chose a woman comes as no surprise, considering criticism of the president's male-centric senior advisory staff.

FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez
FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez Credit: FTC

As a commissioner, Ms. Ramirez is not subject to a congressional-approval process, a factor that also most likely played a role in her appointment. The administration has been embroiled in battles with Republicans over more-high-profile picks. Congress narrowly approved Senator Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department following a bruising battle with the GOP. Now Republicans have set their sights on Mr. Obama's nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan.

Politico and The Washington Post were among the first to report the appointment, which the FTC has not confirmed. An FTC spokesperson said the agency "can't comment on the appointment of the next chairman until the White House has made a formal announcement."

The appointment of Ms. Ramirez is somewhat unexpected among Beltway insiders, though she was considered to be in the running. Ms. Ramirez is "just extremely quiet. She's not as vocal and as public as Commissioner Brill has been," said Interactive Advertising Bureau senior VP-General Counsel Mike Zaneis earlier this month. "But in this town, never underestimate the value of political connections," he said, noting the presumed chairman's affiliation with the president.

"Under [Ms. Ramirez's] leadership, we expect the FTC to blaze new ground on privacy -- especially involving mobile devices, digital-data brokers and do not track," noted Jeffrey Chester, executive director of privacy group the Center for Digital Democracy.

Commissioner Ramirez alluded to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation cross-border privacy rules during an FTC workshop in November on "Protecting Consumers Across Borders," stating, "I believe the FTC is well-positioned to take a leadership role in exploring transnational, enforceable codes of conduct and promoting best practices."

In a 2010 interview with the Federal Civil Enforcement Committee, Ms. Ramirez -- then just named a commissioner -- said, "I intend to be especially involved in technology issues as they relate to the cross-border dimensions of privacy and data security." She continued, "I will also continue to push the commission to think creatively about ways to better educate consumers about risks in the marketplace."

She also stressed her interest in pushing for the FTC to protect Spanish-speaking consumers against fraud. Referring to predatory prepaid-calling-card marketing, she noted, "I intend to be actively involved in FTC initiatives targeting non-English-speaking consumers, especially the large number of those who are primarily Spanish-speaking. I also look forward to further raising the profile of the agency's work on behalf of all minority and underserved communities."

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