Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, talks to journalists at an election night event for Republican candidates in at the Utah Association of Realtors building in Sandy on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, KSL

How Sen. Mike Lee proposes to hold Facebook, Google, Amazon more accountable

By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News | Posted - Nov. 29, 2020 at 8:08 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Having two federal agencies responsible for overseeing antitrust issues hinders robust investigations and enforcement of the law, especially when it comes to Big Tech, according to Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

The two-term Republican said the current arrangement between the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice isn't working.

"When no one knows who is in charge, bad things happen, and sophisticated players like Facebook, Twitter and Google — who can afford an army of lawyers, lobbyists and consultants — can game the system to their own advantage, and thereby avoid accountability for engaging in anticompetitive behavior," he said.

Lee introduced legislation last week that he says would remedy the situation and make it possible to hold Big Tech more accountable.

The proposed One Agency Act that would put all antitrust enforcement under the Department of Justice.

"The Justice Department is more politically accountable, and its structure is better suited to decisive enforcement," he said. It also is the only agency that can oversee criminal cases, he said.

Lee, who has previously complained about dysfunction between the two agencies, filed the bill on the heels of a congressional hearing in which senators grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Lee accused the two social media platforms of being biased against conservatives, Republicans and pro-life advocates.

A frequent critic of how Twitter moderates content, Lee now often posts on its conservative alternative called Parler.

In a Parler post, he said the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Zuckerberg and Dorsey revealed that Big Tech needs to be held accountable.

"There are as many potential remedies to this problem as there are aspects of the problem, and I'm working on every issue I can identify," he said.

Proposing to put all antitrust investigations and enforcement under the DOJ is one those solutions that Lee said is needed due to the lack of accountability among the agencies.

The two-headed approach to antitrust enforcement of the last century has led to growing inefficiency, waste, delays and confusion, he said.

The DOJ and the FTC currently work under an arrangement in which each agency must get clearance from the other before opening an investigation. This regularly leads to turf battles as lawyers from each agency fight over who gets the case.

Jurisdiction over a merger of body camera companies was literally decided by a coin toss, Lee wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The two agencies, he said, have also taken different sides on matters of antitrust policy, even going so far as to argue against each other in court on the same appeal.

"Every year government lawyers spend hundreds of hours managing these fights, wasting taxpayer money and delaying enforcement of the antitrust laws that protect American consumers. This is no way to run a government," he wrote.

A congressional report last month from top Democrats found Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google engage in a range of anti-competitive practices, and that the companies need to be restructured and antitrust laws reformed.

The report recommends making new laws that would potentially break up tech companies and make it more difficult for them to pursue acquisitions. It also calls for clarifying existing antitrust laws to make them easier to enforce, particularly for tech companies.

Also in October, the DOJ sued Google for allegedly stifling competition to maintain its powerful position in the marketplace for online search and search advertising. The lawsuit marks the most significant U.S. legal action taken against a Big Tech firm since the landmark case against Microsoft nearly two decades ago.

Dennis Romboy

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