U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. The hearing will provide members an opportunity to examine policy issues before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and review the agency’s ongoing activities and proceedings.
- The Honorable Joe Simons, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission
- The Honorable Noah Phillips, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
- The Honorable Rohit Chopra, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
- The Honorable Rebecca Slaughter, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
- The Honorable Christine Wilson, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Full Committee Hearing
This hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
*Note: All witnesses will participate remotely.
Chairman Roger Wicker
The FTC is the nation’s primary consumer protection agency. Established in 1914 by the Federal Trade Commission Act, the FTC is chiefly responsible for protecting consumers from unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent business practices in the marketplace. This includes protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of their data; preventing harmful uses of technology; and combatting deceptive advertising and illegal robocalls, among other issues.
The FTC is also responsible for educating consumers about fraudulent activity and predatory business practices. Consumer education is an essential part of the FTC’s mission and it is intended to inform customer choices and help prevent Americans from falling victim to scammers, fraudsters, cybercriminals, and other bad actors.
As was recently discussed at Chairman Moran’s subcommittee hearing on COVID-19 scams last month, the coronavirus has created a new avenue for scammers to take advantage of consumers. The surge in internet usage, in particular, because of stay-at-home orders has been a prime target for exploitation. I appreciate the Commission’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from identity theft, email phishing schemes, and other online dangers during this public health crisis.
Today’s hearing is an opportunity to discuss what more can be done to protect Americans from deceptive and unfair commercial practices.
This work begins by ensuring the FTC has the proper authority and resources at its disposal to carry out its broad statutory mandate. The FTC’s authority under the U.S. SAFE WEB Act, for example, empowers the agency to work with foreign law enforcement agencies to combat international crimes. This law has provided critical cross-border enforcement tools to the FTC to take swift action against criminal activity, such as internet pyramid schemes and data theft. The reauthorization of this Act was favorably reported out of this committee in March and soon we will have a finalized committee report. Once completed, I urge Congress to reauthorize the U.S. SAFE WEB Act quickly before it expires next month.
There have also been challenges to the scope of the FTC’s authority under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, which the Supreme Court plans to address in its next term. The Commission has long relied upon this section of the law to require scammers to give money back to those who have been defrauded. I look forward to examining how Congress can clarify the statute to empower the FTC not only to enjoin improper behavior, but also to compensate victims for their losses.
The FTC’s ability to protect the privacy and security of data is also essential. I hope we can all agree that the COVID-19 pandemic further underscores the need for strong, uniform national data privacy legislation. Such a law would provide all citizens with more transparency, choice, and control over their data. It would also provide certainty and clear, workable rules for businesses across all 50 states. I hope Commissioners will discuss the scope of their existing authority to protect the privacy and security of personal data and outline additional tools that are needed to safeguard information from misuse and unauthorized access.
I am sure Commissioners will also want to discuss the potential impact of the recently invalidated EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework. The Privacy Shield provided a method for companies to transfer personal data back and forth between the United States and the European Union in compliance with EU data protection requirements and in support of transatlantic commerce. The FTC has played a critical role in enforcing compliance with the Privacy Shield since it was established in 2016.
Today’s hearing is an opportunity to review how the FTC is working with the Department of Commerce to develop interim guidance for thousands of U.S. companies – including many small-and-medium sized businesses – impacted by this recent decision.
Finally, some policymakers are proposing that the FTC take a more active role in overseeing unfair or deceptive commercial practices with respect to issues ranging from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to compensating collegiate athletes for the use of their name, image, or likeness. I look forward to hearing more about the FTC’s authority and expertise to address these matters, as well as whether it has sufficient tools to protect consumers engaging in these commercial activities.
Clearly, with the FTC, there is much to discuss. I thank the Commissioners again for their testimonies.
I will now turn to my friend and the Ranking Member for her opening remarks. Senator Cantwell.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Opening Statement at Senate Commerce Hearing titled “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission”
Witnesses: The Honorable Joe Simons, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission
The Honorable Noah Phillips, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
The Honorable Rohit Chopra, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
The Honorable Rebecca Slaughter, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
The Honorable Christine Wilson, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
August 5, 2020
CANTWELL: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding this important hearing today as we invite the commissioners to come before Congress to talk about the impacts of this pandemic on our constituents, the amazing impact that it's having on our economy and on our health care system. My view of the FTC is simple: you should be doing everything in your power to help Americans during this time of crisis. The mission is of extreme importance, and our nation continues to reel from one of the worst health emergencies, and one of the biggest economic crises we've ever faced. And so, we have seen that the COVID-19 pandemic has attracted bad actors, and scam artists, including those who take advantage of people's fear and dire circumstances.
I'm sure every member of this committee has heard from their constituents on these issues about buying ineffective face masks or being subject to COVID-19 phishing attacks or seeing advertisements for miracle coronavirus cures. Thousands of people have reported sky high prices for goods and services from their family. And just like the spread of COVID-19, these scams are happening in every part of the state. There was a recent story in the Seattle Times about sanitizer for $150 for $7 sanitizer. So, price gouging and the issues related to price gouging continue to pile up.
So just like the spread of COVID-19, these virus scams are happening everywhere. They're impacting rural communities, urban communities, and hurting Americans, young and old. Certainly that's the case in my state of Washington where according to the FTC, people have been scammed out of over two and a half million dollars since the pandemic began, and more than 3,500 reports of fraud. And while many of the attorneys general have gone after these profiteers, I believe the FTC is holding back. You could be doing more. We must move beyond warnings and threats in response to these unconscionable scams, we must see the FTC exercising real enforcement with real consequences to protect consumers and families when they are most vulnerable.
That is why I believe the FTC needs clear price gouging legislation to go after these scammers. We must not allow unscrupulous merchants to exchange exorbitant prices sometimes for life saving supplies like personal protective equipment or medical equipment simply because their families are desperate. And trust me, on the frontlines of the epidemic in Kirkland, Washington was Evergreen Hospital. And I can tell you it's not a good thing to get calls from emergency room doctors who were saying they are getting price gouged on essential equipment, when they were at the front lines of this pandemic.
So we need to make it clear that it is illegal to perfect peddle defective mass or fake COVID cures and we need to empower our state's attorneys general to go after these bad actors to buttress the argument--and the FTC enforcement. So this is especially true, given our crisis today. So with many sales happening online, Internet sale platforms should also be working with the federal and local law enforcement to identify price gouging. So, Mr. Chairman, I plan to introduce in the coming days federal legislation to do two things: to move both on price gouging definition to make sure the law is clear that consumers can be protected in this area, and to enforce civil penalties for deceptive COVID scams.
It is time for us to act on these important pieces of legislation. It is time for us to protect our consumers from these very important issues during the time of crisis. People need help and support. They don't need deception and schemes, and we need an FTC that will be more aggressive. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Joe SimonsChairmanFederal Trade Commission
The Honorable Noah PhillipsCommissionerFederal Trade Commission
The Honorable Rohit ChopraCommissionerFederal Trade Commission
The Honorable Rebecca SlaughterCommissionerFederal Trade Commission
The Honorable Christine WilsonCommissionerFederal Trade Commission