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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The House voted down the otherwise uncontroversial Energy and Water appropriations bill Thursday after Democrats succeeded in attaching an amendment affirming LGBT job discrimination protections for military contractors. More than 40 Republicans supported the amendment, but when it came to vote on the bill, 130 Republicans joined all but six Democrats to sink the bill. Speaker Paul Ryan said Democrats voting against the bill after securing the amendment shows their intention was to scuttle the process. Democrats, however, blamed other so-called poison-pill amendments for their votes against the bill. Nonetheless, Ryan said he intends to continue the appropriations process.
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