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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Antitrust flare-up shows no tech bill is a sure-thing in Congress

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Wednesday! As a former Floridian, my heart goes out to those dealing with Hurricane Ian. Stay safe.

Below: Elon Musk and Twitter battle over information requests, and the White House readies an order on data flows. First:

Antitrust flare-ups show no tech bill is a sure-thing in Congress

When House Republican staffers met Monday to discuss upcoming votes on legislation, the lineup included an until-now uncontroversial bill aimed at giving regulators who are taking on the tech giants more resources by raising merger filing fees. But it quickly became a flash point. 

During a tense exchange at the Republican Study Committee session, a staffer for House Judiciary ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) bashed the proposal as a giveaway to the “woke radical” leading the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, who he said sees the agency as a “platform for activism,” according to people with knowledge of the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private session. 

The staffer, Tyler Grimm, claimed Khan admitted to “recruiting” from Marxist groups during a recent oversight hearing and questioned how Republicans could push to give her more funding while challenging Democratic efforts to boost other agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service.

A top staffer for Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who is leading a series of bipartisan antitrust bills including the merger fees proposal, rebuffed the remarks. While Buck has worked to challenge the “status quo” benefiting the tech giants, others have “worked to protect it,” said James Braid, Buck's chief of staff. He argued Grimm’s critique was “grossly disingenuous” because funds would still need to be appropriated later to agencies by Congress, the people with knowledge of the talks said.

The clash highlights how in Washington, even the most limited bills targeting the tech giants are not guaranteed to advance due to infighting on both sides of the aisle. 

On the Democratic side, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) has been whipping votes against an antitrust package that includes the merger fees bill over her objections to a separate proposal that would give state attorneys general more latitude over where courts hear federal antitrust cases, according to two people familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks. 

Lofgren urged colleagues in a letter late Tuesday to oppose the package because the venue bill “would impact all types of businesses and lead to negative consequences for our federal courts.” The letter was co-signed by four other California Democrats: Eric Swalwell, Lou Correa, Scott Peters and Jimmy Panetta

The flare-ups arrive before an expected floor vote on the bills as early as this week, which have both been seen as a gimme for lawmakers, having previously drawn broad bipartisan support. The votes could also serve as a bellwether for more aggressive antitrust legislation that has languished for months after advancing out of committee in the House and Senate.

House Republican leaders have long opposed a more sweeping set of bills that would prohibit the tech giants from favoring their own goods. Several Judiciary Republicans also opposed the merger filing legislation at a markup last year. 

Critics of the push could deal a blow to the prospects of the more aggressive proposals by siphoning off support for the more-limited proposals.

The dispute between Jordan and Buck’s offices spilled into public view Tuesday, as the two sides traded barbs on Twitter over the legislation.

Spokespeople for Buck and Jordan declined to comment on the staff exchange. But in an interview Tuesday, Buck said there’s been “healthy debate” on both sides of the aisle on the recent antitrust legislation, which could “allow more bills to hit the floor in this Congress.”

And he argued that if Republicans retake the House in the midterm elections, they would have a major say of how the extra funding from the merger fees would be doled out to agencies. “I think we will have tight reins on how the money can be spent,” Buck said.

Russel Dye, a spokesperson for Jordan, called the proposal “a vehicle to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for the Biden FTC and DOJ, who have been on a crusade for woke capitalism, and that’s something Mr. Jordan has serious concerns about.”

The line of attack out of Jordan’s office mirrors criticisms leveled against Khan by tech trade groups like NetChoice, which is funded by Amazon, Google and other giants. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

In an op-ed last year for the conservative Townhall news site, NetChoice general counsel Carl Szabo railed against Khan as a “woke” Trojan Horse looking to push “socialist-style regulation.”

“This suspicion of free markets and capitalism reeks of a modern milquetoast Marxism — gussied up enough to pass muster, but still rotten to its core,” Szabo wrote.

During a congressional oversight hearing last week, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) questioned Khan on whether she shared “the anti-capitalist views” of two groups she spoke to in July — the anti-monopoly advocacy group Economic Security Project (ESP) and the Law and Political Economy Project (LPE), a nonprofit housed at Yale Law School — which Jordan’s staffer appeared to be referencing. (The FTC declined to comment on the latest critiques.)

At the hearing, Khan said she did not share any Marxist economic views, and instead was “really encouraged” by the level of student engagement on antitrust enforcement. “Sometimes we do these events with the aim of encouraging folks to come to the FTC,” she said. 

The mounting conservative criticism of Khan may bode poorly not only for tech antitrust legislation, but also for efforts to boost resources at the FTC.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that the Economic Security Project is housed at Yale Law School. It is not.

Our top tabs

White House set to unveil executive order on transatlantic data transfers

The order is aimed at addressing long-standing concerns in the European Union about the surveillance practices of U.S. intelligence agencies, and would outline heightened security protocols, Politico’s Vincent Manancourt, Alfred Ng, Mark Scott and Eric Geller report.

“Once made public next week, the executive order will kick off a ratification process by the European Commission, which is expected to take as long as six months,” according to the report. “The new transatlantic data agreement would therefore be ready around March 2023.”

Tech industry officials have clamored for a successor deal to replace the U.S.-E.U. Privacy Shield pact, which was struck down by European courts in 2020. Silicon Valley companies relied on the framework to securely transfer data between the two continents. 

Musk, Twitter spar over info requests ahead of trial

The two sides are squaring off over whether Elon Musk's legal team should have access to documents that Twitter has claimed are protected by attorney-client privilege, the Wall Street Journal's Alexa Corse reports

Ahead of their highly anticipated trial over Musk's bid to pull out of a deal to buy Twitter, the legal teams are also sparring over “the proposed terms around allowing Mr. Musk to incorporate details about a Twitter whistleblower’s settlement payment into his argument for terminating the deal,” according to the report. 

A central part of Musk's argument to ditch the deal is that Twitter has misled him and the public about how it counts fake and spam accounts, alleging it's more prevalent than the company has let on. Twitter has disputed the assertions and demanded that the deal be consummated.

Agency scanner

Wall Street to Pay $1.8 Billion in Fines Over Traders’ Use of Banned Messaging Apps (Wall Street Journal)

Hill happenings

TikTok Steers Its Charm Offensive Around Loudest Critics in DC (Bloomberg)

Inside the industry

Tumblr probably won’t drop its porn ban, but it might be about to loosen it (The Verge)

Oracle to Settle SEC Foreign Bribery Charges For the Second Time (Wall Street Journal)

Microsoft lays out its climate advocacy goals (Protocol)

Workforce report

Ride-hailing firm Lyft slams brakes on U.S. hiring as recession fears mount (Reuters)

Trending

Dating Apps Thrive in China, but Not Just for Romance (New York Times)

Ukraine’s Internet Army of ‘NAFO Fellas’ Fights Russian Trolls and Rewards Donors With Dogs (Wall Street Journal)

Daybook

  • Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Sameera Fazili, the deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council, speak at an event hosted by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution on the technology and service sectors Wednesday.
  • Microsoft chief information security officer Bret Arsenault discusses cloud innovation and security at a Washington Post Live event Wednesday at 9 a.m.
  • The House Science Committee holds a hearing on artificial intelligence Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
  • Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the top ranking members on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, discuss privacy legislation at a Washington Post Live event Thursday at 11 a.m.
  • Raimondo discusses semiconductor legislation at an event hosted by the Global Tech Security Commission on Thursday at 11:15 a.m.

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