House Republicans defend Elon Musk from FTC ‘harassment campaign’


For more than six months, the Federal Trade Commission has been investigating Twitter’s security practices, following an explosive whistleblower complaint accusing the company of violating a 2011 rule that required it to put implementing privacy protection measures.

This investigation has extended in the wake of the Elon Musk takeover, as former employees have warned that wide departures of key employees could prevent the company from complying with the agreements it has reached. with the FTC to protect data privacy.

Now the investigation has drawn ire from House Republicans, who say the agency is using its privacy probe to thwart Musk’s absolutist view of free speech on Twitter – a startling example, they say, of liberal overtaking.

Republicans stoked those allegations during a combative Thursday hearing on Capitol Hill led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), releasing an 18-page report that includes excerpts from letters from the FTC to Twitter, and accusing the FTC of “orchestrated an aggressive campaign to harass Twitter” and inundate the company with demands. The report claims the investigation was the result of “partisan pressure to target Twitter and silence Musk.”

The political salvo is a challenge to more than a decade of efforts by the FTC to improve privacy and security standards on Twitter, which entered into a consent order with the agency following a pair of security incidents in 2009. Republicans and Democrats are largely united in their concerns about Twitter’s handling of security and data privacy, but Thursday’s hearing turns the investigation into a political lightning rod.

Twitter whistleblower exposes limits of FTC power

The hearing opened with a bitter argument between Jordan and Rep. Stacey E. Plaskett, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Federal Militarization. Plaskett said in his opening statement that Republicans are promoting a false narrative. She said the FTC’s broad reach on Twitter shows the agency has “extraordinarily serious concerns” about the company’s handling of consumer data.

“There is something going on between Congressional Republicans and Elon Musk,” she said. “Mr. President, Americans can see through this. Musk helps you politically, and you do everything you can to promote and protect him, and praise him for his work.

Jordan responded by calling Plaskett’s statements “ridiculous”. Jordan and Plaskett argued over the access House Republicans granted Democrats to full copies of the FTC letters. Plaskett said Jordan’s staff did not give his staff the opportunity to examine them until 8 p.m. the day before the hearing.

The partisan attacks could be just the start of new challenges for Democratic Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, whose ambitious tech industry regulatory agenda is set to come under scrutiny and reconsideration. scrutiny now that Republicans control the House of Representatives.

FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar declined to comment on how the agency planned to face further scrutiny from a Republican Congress. In a Twitter feed On Wednesday, he said the FTC’s investigations “are straightforward and apolitical.”

“The consent order the FTC has with Twitter does not relate to Musk’s acquisition of the company or their content moderation policies,” he tweeted. “This isn’t about free speech, this is about the FTC doing its job to protect the privacy of Americans.”

The attack on the FTC is the latest development in a broader GOP effort to show that Democrats are unduly pressuring social media companies to advance their political goals.

Republicans bless Elon Musk

Former FTC officials argue that the Republicans’ report lacks substance or context about the agency’s work on Twitter, which has been largely bipartisan.

“It’s just b——-,” David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, said when Twitter was placed under an order.

House Republicans did not post full copies of the FTC’s letters to Twitter. The letters were not provided by the agency, according to two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. Russell Dye, a spokesman for Jordan, said they were provided by an “concerned party”.

The Republicans’ report highlighted an FTC request that Twitter “identify all journalists and other members of the media to whom you have granted any type of access to internal company communications.” The agency sent the request after the Twitter Files were released, internal company communications that fueled accusations that former Twitter executives suppressed conservative views.

Musk instructed his subordinates to give former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss “full access to everything on Twitter” without any limits, according to a Signal message seen by The Post and reported in December. The request sparked concerns among Twitter staffers, who warned it could violate FTC regulations.

Two of the writers the FTC requested details about – Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger – have appeared at Thursday’s hearing as witnesses.

The request also provoked backlash from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen public interest journalism, who said the FTC “shouldn’t have to violate the privacy of journalists to protect the privacy of Twitter users.”

The FTC cited reports that Twitter Files editors had “broad and expanded access to Twitter files” and “extensive and unfiltered access to internal Twitter communication and systems,” according to a screenshot. of the letter in the Republicans report.

Twitter is crashing Elon Musk’s reputation as a genius

Weiss and Shellenberger did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Taibbi tweeted that the Twitter Files reporters “did not request or receive access to private user data.”

The hearing points to growing divisions between Democrats and Republicans over the future of social media regulation.

“Bottom line: Democrats and Republicans should want the agency to determine whether there’s been a violation of the consent order or consumer covenants,” the former FTC Democratic Chairman said. Jon Leibowitz, in an interview. “Keep in mind that some of the most serious violations were committed under the leadership of Jack Dorsey.”

Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.

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