We, the undersigned civil rights, civil liberties, and consumer protection organizations, write to express our support for three crucial provisions of the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376): sections 31501 and 62002, which will provide $500 million each for the Federal Trade Commission’s data protection and antitrust activities, and section 31502, which will give the FTC authority to obtain first-time civil penalties against companies that engage in unfair or deceptive trade practices. Together, these measures will significantly strengthen the Commission’s hand against discriminatory and abusive data practices and the businesses that engage in them.
The Act’s increased funding for the FTC is pivotal. The Commission is badly understaffed and under-resourced, which limits its ability to address an ever-deepening crisis of exploitative data practices. Allocating $1 billion for data protection and antitrust work and establishing a bureau in the FTC to address privacy, civil rights, and data security matters will go far in addressing these problems. This is particularly critical in light of numerous security breaches that lead to identity fraud, which cost consumers an estimated $13 billion in 2020 alone. A better funded and organized Commission will be better equipped to prevent unfair and deceptive data practices, which disproportionately harm people of color and low-income communities. For example, as the FTC noted in its recent report Serving Communities of Color, people of color are disproportionately affected by fraud.
Giving the FTC first-time civil penalty authority is equally important. Existing law severely constrains the Commission’s power to impose financial consequences on companies that violate civil and privacy rights. Unless a company is already under an FTC consent decree, the Commission can generally only obtain civil penalties if a business violates a cease-and-desist order or a trade regulation rule, both of which require a lengthy administrative process. Instead, violators typically just sign an order promising not to do it again. Given the Commission’s limited staff and capacity to oversee an $18 trillion economy, unscrupulous actors know there is a relatively low chance of getting caught by the FTC. Those that do should not get what amounts to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for their first offense. Enabling the Commission to seek civil penalties against first-time violators of the FTC Act will be a powerful deterrent against exploitative data practices and a key tool for holding lawbreaking companies accountable.
We thank you for your work to protect civil rights and privacy and urge you to pass the Build Back Better Act with these essential provisions included.
Access Now Americans for Financial Reform Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC California Low-Income Consumer Coalition California Reinvestment Coalition CAMEO – California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity Center for Democracy & Technology Center for Digital Democracy Center for Responsible Lending Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law Color Of Change Common Cause Common Sense Consumer Action Consumer Federation of America Consumer Federation of California Consumer Reports Electronic Frontier Foundation Electronic Privacy Information Center Fairplay Fight for the Future Free Press Action The Greenlining Institute HTTP Legal Aid of Marin Media Alliance Muslim Advocates National Association of Consumer Advocates National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients National Consumers League National Council of Asian Pacific Americans National Hispanic Media Coalition New America’s Open Technology Institute NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights Oakland Privacy Parent Coalition for Student Privacy Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Public Citizen Public Good Law Center Public Knowledge Public Law Center Ranking Digital Rights United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry U.S. PIRG
 Letter from Twenty-Seven Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, & Consumer Protection Orgs. to Majority Leader Schumer et al. (Sept. 23, 2021), https://advocacy.consumerreports.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Group-letter-in-support-of-FTC-privacy-funding.pdf.
Total Identity Fraud Losses Soar to $56 Billion in 2020, Javelin (Mar. 23, 2021), https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210323005370/en/Total-Identity-Fraud-Losses-Soar-to-56-Billion-in-2020.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, Serving Communities of Color: A Staff Report on the Federal Trade Commission’s Efforts to Address Fraud and Consumer Issues Affecting Communities of Color at 40 (Oct. 2021), https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/serving-communities-color-staff-report-federal-trade-commissions-efforts-address-fraud-consumer/ftc-communities-color-report_oct_2021-508-v2.pdf.