Top FTC Official Jessica Rich to Leave, ‘Clean Slate’ Emerging?

Bloomberg Law: Privacy & Data Security brings you single-source access to the expertise of Bloomberg Law’s privacy and data security editorial team, contributing practitioners,...

By Jimmy H. Koo

Federal Trade Commission Director of Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich, who spearheaded consumer privacy and data security initiatives and raised the profile of emerging tech issues at the agency, will leave the commission Feb. 17, the FTC announced Feb. 7.

Ronald R. Urbach, chairman of Davis & Gilbert LLP and head of the firm’s Technology & Privacy Practice group, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 7 that although it’s too early to tell what her departure means, Rich “has been a strong advocate for an aggressive, yet responsible, FTC in consumer protection,” not only in traditional false and deceptive advertising claims but “also in the application of the FTC’s unfairness jurisdiction to privacy and data security.”

Urbach said it remains to be seen if the “new” FTC will maintain the same level of attention on privacy and data security, but noted that “it is likely that the FTC’s focus will return more to its roots and move away from leading edge issues that may reflect policy, more than law enforcement.

After joining the FTC in 1991, Rich held a variety of positions at the commission, including Deputy Director of the Bureau, Associate Director of the Division of Financial Practices, as well as Acting Associate Director and Assistant Director of the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, the FTC said in a statement.

During her tenure, Rich led the commission’s efforts to expand its technological expertise and created the commission’s Office of Technology Research and Investigations. She also led the development of Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule and issued policy reports, including reports on the Internet of Things, mobile applications, big data and cross-device tracking, the commission said.

‘Clean Slate.’

Rich’s departure is the latest recent change in FTC personnel. Former FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez announced Jan. 13 that she will depart the commission Feb. 10. President Donald Trump Jan. 25 tapped Republican Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen to be the commission’s acting chairman.

Rich’s actions “reflected a more activist culture on the part of the FTC, which was consistent with the thinking of key FTC Commissioners, such as Chairman Edith Ramirez and Commissioner Julie Brill,” Urbach said. Rich’s departure will give Ohlhausen “the ability to put into positions of responsibility persons that reflect both the Acting Chair’s philosophical approach and regulatory framework,” he said. “This presents the Acting Chair with a clean slate from the FTC that existed under the Obama administration,” Urbach said.

As bureau director, she was charged with “stopping consumer fraud and deception and protecting consumers’ privacy,” the FTC said. Under her watch, the Bureau of Consumer Protection filed hundreds of enforcement actions against major companies, including Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Amazon.com Inc. and Western Union Co.

Rich “is a pioneer in consumer protection who spearheaded major initiatives regarding consumers’ privacy, data security, and financial transactions,” Ohlhausen said in a statement. “Many of the FTC’s programs bear her indelible mark, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jimmy H. Koo in Washington at jkoo@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Bloomberg Law Privacy and Data Security