President Trump's nominee for Attorney General, William Barr, signaled during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that he may put the screws to tech monopolies.
When asked by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) whether he thought antitrust laws were there "to protect consumers," Barr responded that he is interested in "reassessing" Justice Department antitrust policies when it comes to tech giants.
"Yes, I mean generally that’s where I stand that is the purpose of anti-trust law obviously is to protect competition and competition ultimately that rebounds to consumer benefits. At the same time, I’m sort of interested in stepping back and reassessing or learning more about how the anti-trust division has been functioning and what their priorities are. I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of anti-trust enforcers."
When asked by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) about the DOJ's role in terms of working with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to tackle anti-competitive behavior, Barr said: "I would like to weigh in to some of these issues."
"I'd like to have the antitrust [division] support that effort to get more involved in reviewing the situation from a competition standpoint. I also am interested in the issue of privacy. And the question of who owns this data. And, you know, it's not an area that I've studied closely or become an expert in. But I think it's important for the department to get more involved in these questions."
Barr says he is "for vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws to preserve competition" adding "this is gonna be an area I'm gonna want to get into to." pic.twitter.com/fG30soL9AA— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 15, 2019
Tech giants Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple are five of the six most valuable companies in the world, reports CNBC, adding that lawmakers have called for greater regulation of the industry "as privacy and platform manipulation scandals have rankled Silicon Valley."
Barr acknowledged he still doesn't have the solutions to these questions, including about whether the Justice Department has the authority to address alleged bias on online platforms. He said he'd "have to think long and hard before I said that it was really the stuff of an antitrust matter." But he also expressed concern over the "network effects" that have allowed tech companies to become "so powerful that particular sectors could essentially be subsumed into these networks."
Whoever is confirmed as attorney general could play a key role in shaping the enforcement of antitrust regulation in the coming years. -CNBC
Barr is no stranger to antitrust issues - having recently battled the DOJ over the proposed AT&T / Time Warner merger. As a then-member of the Time Warner board, Barr filed an affidavit opposing the "inexplicable" opposition by the DOJ's leadership in light of President Trump's "prior public animus towards CNN and this merger," reported the Washington Post in December.
The AG nominee says that if confirmed he will recuse himself from the AT&T - Time Warner case after a lower court approved the merger in June, only to have the DOJ file an appeal in July.