On January 13, current FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez announced that she would resign from her position effective February 10, 2017. Ramirez was instrumental in increasing the FTC’s cybersecurity enforcement authority, going after a wide range of data security related private offenders and demonstrating the FTC’s cyber “watchdog” status.
Last Wednesday, January 25, President Trump’s administration announced that Maureen K. Ohlhausen would replace Ramirez as acting FTC chair. Ohlhausen, a Republican, has been an FTC commissioner since 2012, and was one of two remaining commissioners at the FTC including Terrell McSweeny, a Democrat. In addition, the new administration will have the opportunity to fill three new commissioner positions for the five-member panel, at least one of which must be a Democrat.
Ohlhausen’s has an extensive career at the FTC which began in 1997 in the FTC’s General Counsel’s Office. Later she served as an advisor to former FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle, and has served as both an FTC Deputy Director and Director of the Office of Policy Planning. Barak Obama appointed her as an FTC commissioner on April 4, 2012.
Upon Ohlhausen’s appointment as acting FTC Chairwoman, Ohlhausen released a statement that she “will safeguard competition…[and] work to protect all consumers from fraud, deception, and unfair practices”. Similarly in 2014, she noted, “the commission should use its limited resources to pursue cases that involve consumer harm” and voiced her concerns over the “procrustean problem with prescriptive regulation.”
Moreover, Ohlhausen is known for her critique of excessive government regulation, stating in a recent speech that such regulations result in “suffer[ing]” that extends beyond large corporations. Instead, Ohlhausen believes that the FTC should employ “a philosophy of regulatory humanity that has been absent in recent years…and be mindful of the private and social costs that government actions inflict.” In addition, Ohlhausen recently stated in an FTC report that self-regulation is a valid form of consumer protection against privacy infringements. Such statements suggest that Ohlhausen will take a more “pro-business” approach than under Ramirez’s leadership, aimed at limiting regulatory actions that may impede the benefits of data usage and limit competition.
Nonetheless, Ohlhausen has only been appointed as acting FTC chair, and it has been reported that President Trump advisor, Peter Thiel, is conducting a search for a permanent candidate.