The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday that Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy researcher who contributed to the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on revelations from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, will be its new chief technologist.
The agency has become the most significant federal privacy watchdog in recent years -- leveling multimillion-dollar settlements against major technology companies for privacy violations under its authority to take action against "unfair and deceptive acts or practices."
"I'm extremely excited to return to the FTC in a new role as Chief Technologist and help move forward the agency's work in protecting consumers' privacy and security," Soltani told the Post in a statement. "I hope to leverage my experience and expertise in emerging technologies to help advance Chairwoman Ramirez's goal of safeguarding consumers’ privacy, while ensuring they can reap the benefits of new innovations."
Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez appointed Soltani to succeed Dr. Latanya Sweeney, who will be returning to Harvard University. Soltani will join the organization in November. This will be his second tenure at the agency, where he worked in 2010 and 2011 as a staff technologist.
Soltani has also advised state attorneys general and major newsrooms on how privacy and security intersect with technology. Before helping the Post with its Snowden reporting, Soltani also assisted reporters at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
"Ashkan has been a tremendous contributor to our journalism, helping us navigate some of the most important, sensitive, and complex subjects of our time," said Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron. "We are incredibly sorry to lose him as a colleague, but we understand fully why his talents would be coveted by others. We wish him well." Soltani continued to help Washington Post reporters tackle technology topics until the announcement of his new role at the FTC Tuesday.
“Technology and online and mobile platforms are continuing to evolve at a rapid pace and will remain a key focus for the FTC as more and more consumers adopt mobile devices and tablets,” Chairwoman Ramirez said in a press release. “I am pleased to welcome Ashkan to our talented team where he will play a vital role in continuing our important work on behalf of American consumers.”
Privacy advocates praised the choice, suggesting it may be a sign that more fierce FTC action is on the horizon. "The FTC will now have one of the world’s leading technologists on their side who has helped expose widespread industry practices undermining privacy," said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Google, Facebook, and the rest of the digital data broker industry will now face a much more formidable regulator. If I were a betting person, odds are that now the FTC will be playing more hardball to ensure consumer privacy is finally protected."