Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) works at the intersection of privacy and technology, advocating for greater government transparency and better protection for consumers. Alvaro Bedoya, chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, is Fran­ken’s point person in this ever-changing arena.
“The fact is, our privacy laws are way behind our technology in providing the most very basic protections for people,” said Bedoya, who began working for Franken, the subcommittee’s chairman, in 2009. “Privacy law is embarrassingly weak.”
Bedoya, 31, is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr associate in Washington. He has been instrumental to Franken’s effort to shed sunlight on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose orders permitted the National Security Agency to scoop up millions of Americans’ phone records.
“Senator Franken thinks these programs need to exist,” said Bedoya, who Franken charged with putting together the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013. “He also thinks there needs to be robust transparency and robust oversight.”
When it comes to big technology issues, chances are you’ll find Bedoya’s fingerprints. The Judiciary Committee last December approved Franken’s Location Privacy Protection Act, which would require companies to secure a customer’s consent before collecting location information from a mobile device.
Twenty years ago, Bedoya said, biometric scanning “was out of a movie or used in a secure government facility.” Not anymore. Earlier this month, Franken raised privacy concerns over Apple Inc.’s latest iPhone, which features a fingerprint reader as a security measure. “If someone hacks your password, you can change it — as many times as you want,” Franken wrote in a letter to Apple. “You can’t change your fingerprints.”
Existing law, Bedoya said, doesn’t address biometrics. “We’re reaching a tipping point,” he said. “The FBI is rolling out a biometric facial recognition database. Facebook has built the world’s largest database of face prints.”
The big challenge, Bedoya said, is keeping pace with — and keeping his boss informed about — technological developments and how they affect privacy. — Mike Scarcella