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 TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report 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 PalloneBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Hillicon Valley: EU hits Google with .7 billion antitrust fine | GOP steps up attack over tech bias claims | Dems ask FTC for budget wishlist | Justices punt on Google privacy settlement Dems ask FTC if it needs more money to protect privacy 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 WaldenThe 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration House GOP lawmaker says Green New Deal is like genocide Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — FDA issues proposal to limit sales of flavored e-cigs | Trump health chief gets grilling | Divisions emerge over House drug pricing bills | Dems launch investigation into short-term health plans MORE (R-Ore.) has failed to adequately oversee the FCC.

In a June letter to Walden and Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTaylor Swift says she wants to get more involved in politics Bipartisan lawmakers introduce resolution supporting vaccines Hillicon Valley: Cohen stuns Washington with testimony | Claims Trump knew Stone spoke to WikiLeaks | Stone, WikiLeaks deny | TikTok gets record fine | Senators take on tech over privacy MORE (R-Tenn.), the head of the tech and communications subpanel, Pallone and Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHouse Dems plan April vote on net neutrality bill GOP pushes back on net neutrality bill at testy hearing Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers press officials on 2020 election security | T-Mobile, Sprint execs defend merger before Congress | Officials charge alleged Iranian spy | Senate panel kicks off talks on data security bill 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.