Obama Appointee Praises Snowden for Putting ‘Spotlight’ on Privacy

FTC chairwoman says many were unaware how they could be tracked online.

The U.S. and Britain spied on OPEC, according to documents released by Edward Snowden.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 10, 2014, 7:24 a.m.

Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion Chair­wo­man Edith Ramirez said Monday that the leaks by Ed­ward Snowden about Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency sur­veil­lance have led to a pos­it­ive pub­lic dis­cus­sion about pri­vacy.

“It’s been a cata­lyst for very healthy de­bate for pri­vacy gen­er­ally,” she said dur­ing a dis­cus­sion at a tech­no­logy con­fer­ence at the Uni­versity of Col­or­ado, say­ing the leaks “put a spot­light on the is­sue more broadly.”

Ramirez em­phas­ized that her agency has jur­is­dic­tion over only the com­mer­cial sec­tor and that she wasn’t mak­ing any com­ment about the na­tion­al se­cur­ity im­pact of Snowden’s ac­tions. But she ar­gued that the news aler­ted people to how chan­ging tech­no­lo­gies have al­lowed for the track­ing and col­lec­tion of in­form­a­tion about nearly their every ac­tion on­line.

The FTC, an in­de­pend­ent ex­ec­ut­ive-branch agency, is the main reg­u­lat­or for com­mer­cial pri­vacy is­sues. The agency uses its power over “un­fair” or “de­cept­ive” busi­ness prac­tices to sue com­pan­ies like Face­book and Google that vi­ol­ate the terms of their own pri­vacy policies.

Obama named Ramirez as chair­wo­man of the agency last year. She had served as one of the five FTC com­mis­sion­ers since 2010. 

The Snowden leaks have also dam­aged the repu­ta­tion of the U.S. over­seas, Ramirez said at Monday’s con­fer­ence. She ar­gued that it’s im­port­ant that the United States co­ordin­ate its pri­vacy rules with au­thor­it­ies in Europe and else­where.

The news re­ports about how the NSA spies on for­eign cit­izens and lead­ers have un­der­mined trust in the United States on pri­vacy is­sues and hurt its abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate, she said.

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