Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley proposed a comprehensive overhaul of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Monday in the senator’s latest move to reign in big tech. The proposal, aimed primarily at strengthening the FTC to regulate Silicon Valley, would restructure the independent federal agency and move it under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice.
“The FTC isn’t working,” Hawley said in a statement announcing his proposal. “It wastes time in turf wars with the DOJ, nobody is accountable for decisions, and it lacks the ‘teeth’ to get after Big Tech’s rampant abuses… This is about bringing the FTC into the 21st century.”
Under Hawley’s plan, the FTC would no longer be led by a multi-member commission but run by a single director confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms who would report to the associate attorney general at the Justice Department.
Hawley says relocating the FTC under the Department of Justice would better enable to agency to go after big tech by giving it the authority to enforce new rules, create civil penalties for first-time offenses, allow new research opportunities, and provide better reinforcement of state attorneys general cases against tech giants. The new placement would also ramp up ethics requirements at the FTC and prohibit senior staff from working for large companies during a “cooling-off period.”
In recent years, big tech has come under hot water for a wide array of issues from privacy breaches to free speech suppression as it continues to grow in importance and influence in the everyday lives of the developed world. Hawley’s proposal is the Missouri Republican’s latest move as one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of big tech.
Last year, the freshman senator introduced several new pieces of legislation aimed at breaking up tech giants, including an elimination of protections offered to companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act if they didn’t undergo a government audit to validate political neutrality, and a ban on social media platforms using certain “addictive” practices to hook users to their websites.
The FTC has played a role in the fight against tech by slapping fines on Facebook for privacy violations and investigating whether large tech corporations are violating anti-trust laws. Hawley, however, argues the FTC has become ineffective as an independent agency at reigning in the giants of Silicon Valley and has looked the other way when it should have intervened.
In 2017, for example, the European Union fined Google $2.7 billion for using anticompetitive search algorithms and lying about it to the public. A leaked report surfaced from the FTC shows that the commission knew of Google’s deceptive conduct in 2012 but turned its cheek, allowing Google to amass unfair power in the market undeterred.
Hawley’s office also pointed out Google and Facebook’s acquisition of smaller companies without FTC interference, leading to the two companies becoming some of the largest in the world.
“The reality is the FTC is not putting even its current resources to effective use because the FTC is poorly designed,” the senator’s office said in a statement.