The Senate on Wednesday voted 51-50 to advance the nomination of privacy expert Alvaro Bedoya to the Federal Trade Commission, with Vice-President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
The vote paves the way for the Senate to confirm Bedoya, the founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law.
Assuming he's ultimately confirmed, the FTC will have a majority of Democrats for the first time during the Biden administration.
Earlier this month, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14-14 on Bedoya's nomination. The tie allowed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to call for Wednesday's vote to advance Bedoya's nomination.
Biden first nominated Bedoya last year, then re-nominated him in January after the Senate failed to move forward with a vote.
More than three dozen consumer advocacy groups supported Bedoya, arguing that the current partisan deadlock at the FTC prevents the agency from cracking down on large tech companies.
“A prolonged deadlock on the FTC only stands to create further obstacles for the agency as it works to hold Big Tech giants accountable,” organizations including Accountable Tech, the Center for Digital Democracy and Demand Progress said last October in a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who heads the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) has said he opposed Bedoya's nomination due to his “divisive views.”
“There has been a troubling trend of politicization at the FTC, which we have not had in the past, and I fear Mr. Bedoya would not bring the cooperative spirit that is so greatly needed,” Wicker said earlier this month.
The references to divisive views apparently stemmed from tweets by Bedoya, including his retweet of post that compared Donald Trump's 2016 presidential convention to a white supremacist rally. Bedoya later apologized for the retweet.
Bedoya is known for proposing curbs on the use of facial-recognition technology.
Under his leadership, Georgetown's Center on Privacy & Technology published the influential 2016 report “Perpetual Line Up,” which revealed that photos of more than 117 million U.S. adults were in databases accessible by law enforcement officials seeking to deploy facial-recognition software.
That report also concluded that the use of facial-recognition technology by law enforcement will disproportionately affect African Americans, and that the technology may be least accurate for African Americans.
Bedoya has also criticized the commercial use of surveillance technology -- including tracking software that can monitor people's television use by embedding audio beacons in TV ads.
He previously served as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law and its former chairman, Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minnesota).