His confirmation would further bolster expectations about the agency’s scrutiny of an industry led by trillion-dollar companies with unprecedented influence over how people live, work and speak.
Bedoya called the nomination “the honor of my life” and said in a tweet, “When my family landed at JFK in 1987 with 4 suitcases and a grad student stipend, this was not what we expected.”
Born in Peru, Bedoya has worked to reframe the debate around emerging surveillance technology from its technical abilities to its most devastating impacts, particularly on immigrants and people of color.
As a staffer for former senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), Bedoya became the first chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law, which since 2011 has held hearings on location tracking and the opacity of National Security Agency surveillance.
He has been praised on Capitol Hill for his bipartisan approach to privacy as a human right, and his nomination to Silicon Valley’s top watchdog could presage a more aggressive approach to the private sector, particularly in issues of data protection.
Noah Phillips, who worked with Bedoya in the Senate and was nominated by Trump as an FTC commissioner in 2018, said he has not always agreed with Bedoya but found him to be “without fail as bright and thoughtful a person as you could find.”
“I don’t think of him as a person who just gets up and rants about entities he doesn’t like,” Phillips said. He “thinks about the impacts of practices that concern him, engages with people who have views about those practices, and helps maps out a way forward.”
Bedoya’s nomination comes as Biden’s FTC chair, Lina Khan, has faced calls from both Democrats and Republicans to forcefully police the tech giants’ most dominant players, including Amazon and Facebook. Khan said in a statement Monday that Bedoya’s expertise on surveillance and data security “would be enormously valuable to the commission as we work to meet this moment of tremendous need and opportunity.”
Biden has also elevated people who have scrutinized tech’s impact on civil rights in other agencies. Vanita Gupta, a civil rights leader who criticized Facebook, earlier this year became associate attorney general at the Department of Justice.
Bedoya’s work could also help the agency further expand its ambitions in safeguarding Americans’ privacy online. House Democrats last week proposed a $1 billion boost of the FTC’s budget to help launch a division to patrol for privacy violations and online abuse.
It is unclear when Bedoya’s confirmation hearings will be scheduled, though it will likely take months. He would replace FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra, who Biden nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but is still awaiting confirmation.
In the Senate, Bedoya was a key driver of privacy and surveillance as public-interest issues, helping draft legislation and conduct oversight hearings into tech-company practices. He was known for organizing informal Thursday night “pizza and privacy” gatherings, attracting House and Senate staffers from across the aisle.
“He’s never seen privacy as a left or right issue, but as a core civil protection and civil rights concern in a way that can pull together both sides,” said Jeff Zubricki, a longtime Senate staffer who worked with Bedoya and now leads government relations for the online marketplace Etsy. “There’s a whole generation of staffers he’s influenced that are still up there today.”
Later, as a director of Georgetown’s privacy center, Bedoya pushed authoritative studies that would become a centerpiece of Congressional interest and help fuel political movements across the country.
Since 2016, when Bedoya and the researchers Clare Garvie and Jonathan Frankle wrote how unregulated police use of facial recognition had forced Americans into a “perpetual lineup,” more than a dozen states and cities have passed laws banning or restricting its public use.
In recent months, he has been a vocal critic of the digital systems used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to find and track immigrants in the United States, writing columns criticizing the “technology behind ICE’s brutality.”
Bedoya’s nomination earned praise from prominent tech watchdogs, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who said in a statement that Bedoya is “a perceptive, energetic champion for the privacy of everyone who uses or is impacted by technology, especially the most vulnerable in our society.”
“I have personally witnessed how Alvaro stands up for marginalized individuals and communities behind the scenes and in the halls of power,” she said.
Consumer and civil rights advocates also celebrated the Bedoya pick. Wade Henderson, the interim president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the country’s biggest civil rights umbrella group, said in a statement that he urged the Senate to quickly confirm his nomination.
“An influential scholar focused on the principle that privacy is a civil right, Professor Bedoya is exactly the leader our country needs right now,” Henderson said.
Cat Zakrzewski and Cristiano Lima contributed to this report.