If 2021 is any indication, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows no signs of slowing down in its pursuit of enforcement actions to address a wide variety of alleged privacy and cybersecurity issues. Under the leadership of new chair, Lina Khan, the past year has seen the FTC engage is a variety of new and expanding enforcement actions exhibiting an increasing interest in regulating data privacy and security, as well as other consumer protection areas.
While the FTC has become the de facto regulator for entities that are not subject to other sector-specific regulations, the Commission’s assertion of authority over privacy and cybersecurity matters is limited by its statutory powers under section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” that injure consumers. The FTC’s expansion of that authority to cover privacy and cybersecurity matters has only grown more aggressive in recent years but has also become the subject of close judicial review. Notably, in 2018, the Eleventh Circuit ruled, in LabMD, Inc. v. FTC, that the FTC did not have unlimited authority to dictate the details of companies’ privacy and cybersecurity protections. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court, in AMG Capital Mgmt., LLC v. FTC, held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act does not allow the FTC to obtain monetary relief in federal court. The FTC has asked Congress to use its authority to remedy this ability, and claims that this constitutes a loss of its “best and most efficient tool for returning money to consumers who suffered losses as a result of deceptive, unfair, or anticompetitive conduct.”
The FTC has pushed for a more expansive view of its authority for several years, and this has only intensified over the last year. Even before the AMG decision, the FTC had been advocating for Congress to address the gap in Section 13(b), which only explicitly provides for the FTC’s ability to order injunctive relief and is silent on monetary relief. While waiting on Congress to address the issue, we expect for the FTC to continue to bring enforcement actions and order restitution and disgorgement via their Section 19 authority, which provides for these types of relief, but only after a final cease-and-desist order, which can be challenged and is subject to review of appellate courts.