Technology

Ex-national security officials warn against antitrust bills in new ad campaign

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Former high-ranking national security officials are urging lawmakers to abandon antitrust legislation targeting U.S. tech giants as part of a seven-figure ad campaign first shared with The Hill.

The ads, which are being run by the American Edge Project, an advocacy group backed by Meta and several lobbying groups funded by Amazon and Google, warn that legislation to weaken American tech companies would undermine U.S. competitiveness with China and Russia.

“We can’t allow our adversaries to win the tech race,” Frances Townsend, who served as a homeland security adviser under former President George W. Bush, tells viewers in one video. “If our leaders don’t change course, American citizens and businesses will become more dependent on authoritarian regimes for our technology.”

The ad campaign comes as Senate leaders weigh whether to hold a vote on the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a bill to prevent dominant digital platforms from favoring their own services and empower antitrust enforcers to scrutinize tech giants. 

The big four tech firms and their Washington allies have ramped up their attacks on the bill after it advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan 16-6 vote in January. Industry groups have keyed in on the national security argument following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, making the case that the U.S. needs its tech giants at full strength to counter its enemies.

“Rather than passing legislation that handcuffs our technology companies, Washington lawmakers must work diligently to strengthen, not undercut, American technology,” American Edge Project CEO Doug Kelly said in a statement.

The advertisements also feature Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former acting CIA Director Michael Morell. All of the officials featured in the videos sit on the American Edge Project’s board.

Townsend and Morell were among several tech-backed former national security officials who penned a September letter warning that antitrust legislation would “cede U.S. tech leadership to China.”

Late last month, the Justice Department endorsed the American Online Innovation and Choice Act, telling lawmakers that the nation’s global competitiveness “depends on innovators and entrepreneurs having the ability to access markets free from dominant incumbents that impede innovation, competition, resiliency, and widespread prosperity.”

While the bill advanced out of committee with bipartisan support, it’s unclear whether it will pass the Senate before November’s midterms. Several lawmakers who voted to advance the bill said it needed to undergo significant changes before heading to the floor.

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