House Republicans Grill FTC Head for Alleged ‘Harassment’ of Twitter

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan cited an incident where he said Khan engaged in ‘targeted harassment’.

House Republicans Grill FTC Head for Alleged ‘Harassment’ of Twitter
Photo of Lina Khan courtesy FTC

WASHINGTON, July 17 – House Republicans at a judiciary committee hearing Thursday charged the head of the Federal Trade Commission with allegations she is “harassing” Twitter since its acquisition by Elon Musk.

The committee chair, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, alleged in his opening statement that Lina Khan had granted herself and the FTC unrestrained authority by aggressively regulating the practices of major tech companies like Twitter.

He specifically cited an incident where Khan allegedly engaged in what he termed as “targeted harassment against Twitter.” He claimed that Khan requested all communications related to Musk, including conversations with journalists, following Musk’s acquisition, insinuating that this action was driven by her personal political beliefs.

Khan countered by alleging that Twitter had a long-standing history of inadequate security and privacy policies that predated Musk’s involvement.

Twitter alleges the FTC has issued “unceasing demands” for “burdensome document protections,” particularly since Elon Musk took over the company last year. Since that time, X Corp., which owns Twitter, said it’s received 16 demand letters, compared with just about 28 from the agency in the last decade-plus.

During the hearing, the Republicans accused Khan of “mismanagement” and of injecting politics into the legal actions taken against prominent companies like Twitter and Microsoft, which fall under the purview of the FTC, which is currently down two Republican commissioners. President Joe Biden had recently nominated two replacement commissioners.

The hearing came after a proactive FTC lost a case to pause the merger of Microsoft and video game maker Activision-Blizzard on July 11; after it opened an investigation into ChatGPT developer OpenAI on July 13 on the allegation it engaged in unfair and deceptive privacy practices; and after it opened an investigation into Twitter’s privacy practices and its operations under new CEO Elon Musk on March 8.

Hours before the hearing on Thursday, Twitter asked a federal court to terminate a 2022 privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that is the subject of an ongoing FTC investigation, alleging that the probe has “spiraled out of control and become tainted by bias.”

Democrats, including Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-NY, stood in support of Khan, saying that protecting user privacy should not be a matter of politics, but rather a shared concern.

The hearing witnessed clashes between Republicans criticizing Khan for alleged politicization and mismanagement of her power at the FTC, while Democrats defended her and highlighted the importance of user privacy.

Under Khan’s leadership, since 2021, the FTC has lost five of the seven merger challenges it has litigated.

Prior to being selected as FTC chair, and while attending Yale Law School, Khan authored a student note entitled Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox, which theorized ways to use existing but often moribund antitrust laws to challenge Big Tech firms.

On receiving her J.D. in 2017, she worked at the Open Markets Institute, a think tank investigating corporate monopolies. Additionally, in 2020, Khan helped write the House Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan report on its Antitrust Subcommittee’s Antitrust Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets.

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