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The Federal Trade Commission is likely to exercise more authority over data privacy, antitrust issues and algorithmic decision-making if Joe Biden wins in November. So tech insiders — including former and current government officials, lawyers, academics and lobbyists — have all begun speculating about who Biden would choose to lead the commission.
Here are the potential nominees whose names are coming up most often in conversations about the FTC.
The two sitting Democratic FTC commissioners, Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter, are by far the likeliest contenders for the chairmanship under a President Biden.
It's widely assumed that Biden's team will offer some administration slots to people favored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Chopra is a key Warren ally. Chopra and Warren worked closely together at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before Chopra went to the FTC, where he has spent the past two years promoting boundary-pushing, left-leaning policies, particularly around the tech sector. Chopra railed against the FTC's $5 billion penalty against Facebook because he thought it did not go far enough to change the company's core business practices, and he has continually accused the FTC of being beholden to business interests.
His FTC would be tough on industry and keen to exercise more authority over technology issues. But it's unclear if Warren would wield her power to push for Chopra on the FTC, or if he'd want to jump to another part of the administration. And his nomination would be seen as a serious threat to the business community, which would likely fight his nomination behind the scenes.
Key senators often play an important role in administration nominations, so Becca Slaughter's chances are boosted by her years as a close aide to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Slaughter worked as Schumer's chief counsel for years before she became an FTC commissioner in May 2018, at the same time as Chopra.
Slaughter has pushed for the FTC to do more to rein in racially biased algorithms and called for more-stringent merger oversight. She also dissented to the Facebook decision, though her criticisms were more tempered. She's seen as slightly more moderate than Chopra, but she's still garnered a positive reputation within the consumer protection advocacy community.
"No one would be disappointed in Rebecca," said one source who's spent years in the public interest community.
Slaughter also recently became the first government official to testify before Congress while breastfeeding her 2-month-old baby.
Terrell McSweeney is a serious antitrust expert with deep, close ties to Bidenworld. McSweeney served as Biden's deputy chief of staff when he was in the Senate and then as his domestic policy adviser when he was the vice president. She went on to become the chief counsel for competition policy at the DOJ's antitrust division and then an FTC commissioner between 2014 and 2018, building close relationships with Democrats and Republicans alike.
With those credentials, McSweeney could be a top choice for FTC chair — if she wants it and if Biden decides to pass over the two sitting Democratic commissioners. McSweeney is another name that likely has her choice of positions.
Louisa Terrell would be another prime contender from Biden's inner circle for a multitude of tech-related positions in his administration. Terrell's resume ping-pongs between the public and private sector; she served as Biden's deputy chief of staff and counsel when he was in the Senate, then ran public policy at Yahoo. She served as a special assistant to the president on legislative affairs between 2009 and 2011, and then became Facebook's public policy director between 2011 and 2013. She was a counselor to Tom Wheeler at the FCC and then the executive director of the Biden foundation. Right now, she's at McKinsey. In other words, she's hardly underqualified.
Terrell is known as a savvy strategist and a clear Biden ally. Several sources speculated she could make sense at the FTC or DOJ, depending on her interests, though it's unclear if her ties to industry would work against her.
Nicol Turner Lee
Nicol Turner Lee, the director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation, is an expert on some of the FTC's core issue areas, including data privacy, algorithmic discrimination and digital equity. She won't say whether she's interested in a job as an FTC or FCC commissioner. But she said any commissioner in a Biden-Harris administration will have to seriously contend with "challenges related to access as well as the potential biases that may emanate from artificial intelligence or from algorithms, which are definitely going to fall under the jurisdiction of the FTC."
"I think issues related to potential discrimination that exists in technology products and services will be at the forefront," Lee said.
Some insiders are floating Lee as a potentially strong commissioner for the FTC, depending on how the chair roles shake out.
Tim Wu has been an essential voice for progressive antitrust policies over the past several years as the anti-monopolization movement has moved toward the center of the Democratic platform. Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, is best known as a highly visible academic who has written multiple books about Big Tech's dominance, including "The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age," "The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads" and "The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires."
He has served in government before; he was a senior adviser to the FTC and a senior enforcement counsel at the New York Office of the Attorney General. Though he'd be a long shot for the FTC chairmanship, his name is being floated in Warren-adjacent circles as a potential commissioner. Needless to say, he is seen as a huge threat to the tech companies.
Travis LeBlanc, who is currently a partner at Cooley, could benefit from his close ties to Harris — he was a special adviser to Harris when she was the California attorney general. He's also spent years within tech policy circles in Washington, having served as the FCC's enforcement bureau chief and as a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the government's privacy watchdog. He's an expert in data security, privacy and has basically touched all of the key subject areas that the FTC oversees.
LeBlanc is currently helping lead one of the lawsuits against President Trump's social media executive order and spent time at the DOJ. Sources said he could be a top choice for the FTC, the DOJ's antitrust division or even ambassador positions.
Julie Brill was under serious consideration for the FTC chairmanship before, and her name is coming up again this time around. Brill served as an FTC commissioner for six years between 2010 and 2016, making a name for herself as a key voice on data privacy and security issues. After spending time at Hogan Lovells, she went to work at Microsoft, where she is now the company's chief privacy officer.
Brill is regularly tapped to speak before Congress about data privacy and has been an instrumental voice as the Senate tries to come to an agreement over federal privacy legislation. Though some saw her as antagonistic toward the business community during her time at the FTC, she's ginned up some goodwill within the private sector since joining Microsoft, said one former FTC official.
There are a number of state attorneys general who would make sense as potential FTC chair contenders. Becoming an FTC chair is a reasonable move for state attorneys general, who often deal with primarily consumer protection issues but don't always have a path to Congress or the governor's mansion.
Karl Racine, the first independently elected attorney general of the District of Columbia, has garnered national attention as he sues Facebook for privacy violations, helps lead the team of state AGs investigating Facebook for antitrust violations, takes on Instacart for deceiving customers, and aids the ongoing Google antitrust investigation.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has also spent years in the antitrust world. He served as the senior counsel for telecom policy in the Department of Justice's antitrust division before becoming deputy assistant attorney general of the antitrust division during the Obama years. He was then a senior adviser for technology and innovation on Obama's National Economic Council and has kept up strong tech ties in Washington since becoming the Colorado attorney general in 2018. He'd be a reasonable candidate either for the FTC or for a number of DOJ positions.
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Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.