The Federal Trade Commission has signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a non-ministerial department of the U.K. government charged with enforcing competition and consumer protection laws within and outside of the United Kingdom.

The MOU is intended to strengthen enforcement cooperation on FTC investigations and enforcement matters.  It enhances cooperation between the two agencies, and the U.S. SAFE WEB Act provides the FTC with key powers to carry out this cooperation.  Importantly, the MOU streamlines sharing investigative information and complaint data, simplifies requests for investigative assistance and aids joint law enforcement investigations.  It also provides confidentiality and data safeguards.

The MOU further facilitates the FTC’s cooperation with the members of the U.K. Consumer Protection Partnership, which includes U.K. enforcers and non-governmental entities that have consumer protection responsibilities.

Investigation and Enforcement Cooperation

It is anticipated that the enforcers will use heightened efforts to share information, including complaints and other personally identifiable information, that are relevant to investigations or enforcement proceedings.  Investigative assistance (e.g., Civil Investigative Demands (CID) from FTC and UK legal regulatory attorneys) will include obtaining information pursuant to request, obtaining testimony or statements of persons, locating persons and assets, and assisting in execution of service of process.

The participants will cooperate in matters than involve consumer protection matters that are a mutual priority, and establish routinized, electronic sharing of appropriate consumer complaint information.

Confidentiality and Data Safeguards

When disclosing information under the MOU, the participants intend to treat the shared information, the existence of the investigation to which the information relates, and any requests made as confidential, and do not intend to further disclose or use the information for purposes other than those for which it was originally shared.  However, from time to time it may be necessary for a participant to disclose Information to a non-enforcer to achieve the purpose for which information is shared.

Each participant is to use best efforts, consistent with its laws, to safeguard the security of any information received under the MOU and respect any safeguards decided upon by the participants.  In the event of any unauthorized access or disclosure of the Information, the participants are to take all reasonable steps to prevent a recurrence of the event and to promptly notify any other affected participant of the occurrence.

The participants recognize that information exchanged in connection with investigations and enforcement actions often contain personally identifiable information.  If the requesting participant wishes to obtain confidential information that includes personally identifiable information, then the participants understand that they are to take additional appropriate measures to safely transmit and safeguard the information containing personally identifiable information. 

Disclosure of Confidential Information

Either Participant may disclose Information provided pursuant to the MOU in response to a formal demand from the participant’s country’s legislative body or an order issued from a court with proper jurisdiction in an action commenced by the participant or its government; and information obtained in connection with the investigation or enforcement of criminal laws may be used for the purpose of investigation, prosecution, or prevention of violations of a participant’s country’s criminal laws.

Subject-Matter Expertise Exchanges

The participants also intend to collaborate on sharing best practices, subject-matter expertise and other intelligence as well as on economic and legal conditions and theories relating to the enforcement of the applicable consumer protection laws.

Such collaboration may include staff exchanges; periodic teleconferences or webinars to exchange information between and among the participants’ management and staff on legal developments, enforcement actions, and investigative techniques; and coordinated studies on consumer-related market issues when appropriate on issues of mutual concern.

The MOU was signed by FTC Chairman Joe Simons and the CMA Chairman, the Rt. Hon. Lord Tyrie.  It supersedes a previous agreement between the FTC and U.K. authorities, furthering a long history of collaboration on consumer protection investigations and cases.

“I’m pleased to sign this agreement with our partners at the CMA,” said FTC lawyer Chairman Simons. “By strengthening our cooperation on consumer enforcement matters, we benefit consumers in both our countries.”

Richard B. Newman is an Internet marketing attorney at Hinch Newman. 

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