by KEITH MILLER
We moved to upstate New York from Lima in 1987, when I was five. My dad finished his Ph.D. at what was then SUNY Binghamton. We moved from the city to the suburbs, and everything was quite new. I remember thinking that the concrete storm drains were just smaller, American sidewalks. My brother and I also thought the word “ketchup” was hilarious because it consisted of the words “catch” and “up” but was really just tomato sauce. We lived in an apartment; most of our classmates had houses. We never lacked for anything, but the experience of being different and having less than everyone around us stuck with me and helped shape me into who I am today.
WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP, WAS IT ALWAYS YOUR DREAM TO BECOME A LAWYER?
To be honest, I became a lawyer because I was interested in government and wasn’t interested in becoming a doctor or engineer – the professions that a lot of other immigrants get steered into. (My brother is a doctor.) It was only later in life that I realized that the United States is one of those rare places where you truly can do almost anything professionally. I have two young children, and I’m keen to make sure that they do whatever they want professionally.
WHAT GOT YOU INTO THE POLITICAL ARENA AND SERVING ON CONGRESSIONAL STAFF?
In law school, I came to understand how critical of a role Congress and the Supreme Court played in righting wrongs. I was particularly moved by the passage of civil rights and voting rights laws in the 1960s. They truly transformed our society. After law school, I wanted to help immigrants in this country and knew that Congress would try to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. So, I started interviewing for positions in the Senate. I got a job as chief counsel to the newest senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Al Franken. We never were able to pass immigration reform legislation, but the five years I spent on Capitol Hill was an invaluable education in the American government.
WHAT, SPECIFICALLY, GOT YOU FOCUSING ON PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY LEGAL ISSUES?
It was a circuitous route. In college and law school, I’d been interested in civil rights, voting rights, and worker rights. In the Senate, I was handed the privacy portfolio largely by default. But, I quickly saw that many of the issues we saw in the areas I was interested in were replicated in privacy. You have consumers, who are largely unorganized and dispersed, going up against very concentrated and organized industry interests. Unsurprisingly, the industry has usually won those debates. The challenge of changing that dynamic fascinated and excited me.
AFTER BEING NOMINATED TO REPLACE ROHIT CHOPRA AS AN FTC COMMISSIONER, AND AFTER A LONG CONFIRMATION PROCESS, YOU WERE SWORN IN AS AN FTC COMMISSIONER ON MAY 16, 2022. WHAT ABOUT THIS JOB MAKES YOU EXCITED TO WAKE UP EVERY MORNING AND GO TO WORK?
This is a dream job. I feel terribly lucky to have it. It’s rare to be able to get up most mornings and know that you will go to work and help people in a very real way, often when they are in a very difficult situation. Right now, I’m particularly interested in learning about antitrust. I already spent much of the past year reading on the subject. Now, I’m learning about particular industries. Every day is something new and different
A LARGE PERCENTAGE OF AAHOA MEMBERS ARE FRANCHISEES. IT’S STILL EARLY IN YOUR TERM, AND THE FTC HAS COME UNDER SOME SCRUTINY FOR PERCEIVED WEAK OVERSIGHT OF THE FRANCHISE INDUSTRY. WHAT ARE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS AND DIRECTIONS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE FTC TAKE IN RELATIONSHIP TO FRANCHISING?
I think that the Commission’s authority to protect franchisees is one of the most critical ones it’s charged with enforcing – and that’s saying something, because the Commission is charged with enforcing more than 70 federal laws. I have a lot of respect for the fact that many franchisees have invested their life savings, or retirement accounts, into building a business. Often, it’s the first business they’ve ever owned. I know franchisees who have had terrific experiences. I know others who found it to be quite difficult and who traced those difficulties to the power and information imbalance between themselves and their franchisor. I’m keen to make sure that franchisees are treated fairly and have been quickly getting up to speed on the Commission’s work in this space.
I have a lot of respect for the fact that many franchisees have invested their life savings, or retirement accounts, into building a business.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR FAMILY AND HOW YOU BALANCE A HIGH-LEVEL CAREER BUT PRIORITIZE YOUR FAMILY FIRST?
It’s a balancing act, but it’s nothing that AAHOA members aren’t familiar with in running their businesses, often with young families of their own. For me, I make sure I’m home for dinner and to put the kids down. Then I log on for a few hours to read, write, and catch up on email. I’m also limiting my travel to minimize the likelihood of exposing our family to new COVID variants. I very much look forward to not having to worry about that.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT THE PUBLIC PROBABLY DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT ALVARO BEDOYA, THE PERSON, THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SAY?
People like me want to hear from people like you. A funny thing happens when you come into an office like this one – people stop telling you things. As a result, you often only hear from seasoned lobbyists. Obviously, that’s not a good thing. I’m better at my job if I know what actual business owners are experiencing on a daily basis.