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Dems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators

Dems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report California wildfire becomes deadliest in state’s history Sinema’s Senate win cheered by LGBTQ groups MORE’s tech industry regulators are likely to face much more vigorous oversight under a Democratic House in the next Congress.

Democrats won control of the chamber in the Tuesday midterms and will now have more power to go after Republican Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, with whom they have repeatedly clashed over his repeal of net neutrality. And they will be able to use control of panels such as the House Energy and Commerce Committee to spotlight issues like media and telecom mergers and, in particular, data privacy violations.

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In addition to beefing up oversight of regulators they believe have been too lax on the tech and telecom industry, Democrats are also making it a top priority to craft internet privacy rules.

There has been increasing bipartisan support for a national privacy law in recent months following a string of massive data scandals and breaches at major companies.

Democrats will only have control of the House, but they aim to push tougher consumer protections they believe are popular with voters.

Last week, as political pundits were widely predicting the Democrats’ House takeover, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHillicon Valley: DNC tech chief finds no midterm hacks | Google ends forced arbitration for sexual harassment | House Dems look to rein in FCC | North Korean hackers become new banking threat | Tesla gets new chair Dems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators Midterm stakes high for Silicon Valley MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that oversight and consumer protections will be among the party’s top priorities.

“We plan to put the consumer first by pushing policies that protect net neutrality, promote public safety, and provide meaningful privacy and data security protections that are seriously lacking today,” he said in a statement.

And Pallone made it clear that Democrats would have tough questions for administration officials.

“It’s also important that the committee get back to conducting real oversight of the FCC, and that means regular oversight hearings with all commissioners,” he said.

Democrats have long complained that current Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenDems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump insists GOP will 'totally' protect people with pre-existing conditions | Landmark opioid bill signed into law | Report finds agencies blindsided by 'zero tolerance' policy Vulnerable Republicans throw ‘Hail Mary’ on pre-existing conditions MORE (R-Ore.) has failed to adequately oversee the FCC.

In a June letter to Walden and Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnDems vow swift action on gun reform next year Blackburn calls for addressing mental health issues after California shooting Dems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators MORE (R-Tenn.), the head of the tech and communications subpanel, Pallone and Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleDems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill MORE (D-Pa.) demanded more hearings on the agency’s actions.

They noted at the time that a delayed February hearing had not yet been rescheduled.

“We believe it is long past time to reschedule this important oversight hearing to follow through on a commitment from the Republican leadership of this Committee that it would hold quarterly Federal Communications Commission oversight hearings,” they wrote.

The panel ended up holding an FCC oversight hearing in July.

Democratic criticism of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda is nothing new. But now, after the midterms, they have the power needed to push back, with Pai as one of their top targets.

Pallone on Wednesday asked his fellow Democrats for their support in making him the new Commerce chairman, listing net neutrality and “vigorous oversight of the Trump Administration” as among his top priorities.

Democrats have been butting heads with Pai throughout his tenure as chairman over his aggressive deregulatory approach. His repeal of the FCC’s Obama-era net neutrality rules last year sparked massive backlash and opposition from Democrats.

But with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, there was little they could do to stop the effort. With their newfound oversight and subpoena powers, however, Democrats will be able to drag Pai into the spotlight regularly.

Democrats have a host of other issues they want to press Pai over, including how the FCC handles comments during the rulemaking process, as well as the agency’s review of the now-terminated Sinclair-Tribune merger deal and the proposed T-Mobile-Sprint merger.

The focus on data privacy could also bring another agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), under tougher congressional scrutiny.

After scrapping the net neutrality rules, Pai said the FCC would work in tandem with the FTC to address online consumer privacy practices. But critics say that agreement largely cedes authority to the FTC, which they argue is ill-equipped to deal with regulating privacy practices.

“Chairman Pai congratulates all who were elected yesterday and looks forward to working with the new Congress,” an FCC spokesperson said when asked by The Hill about the possibility of facing tougher scrutiny from a Democratic-controlled House.

The new scrutiny follows a well-worn playbook. Using committee gavels to disrupt regulators of opposing parties is a common tactic. It gives opposition lawmakers the opportunity to highlight their issues of choice and antagonize the administration.

“The entire goal is to keep you from your doing work,” said Gigi Sohn, a former adviser to Tom Wheeler, who served as FCC chairman under the Obama administration.

In 2015, Wheeler pushed through the net neutrality rules requiring internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally. He also implemented privacy rules — later overturned by Congress — for broadband companies and broadcast ownership restrictions designed to curtail consolidation in the media industry.

But the GOP-controlled Congress made his work the subject of frequent oversight hearings.

“The Republicans did that so effectively against Wheeler,” Sohn said. “Everybody and their mother took a shot at Tom Wheeler.”

“And if Democrats are smart, they’ll do the same thing,” she added.