AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths'

AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths'
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE’s pick to lead the Department of Justice, William Barr, suggested during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the agency should take a closer look at tech giants’ dominant market power and handling of user data.

During an exchange with Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeTrump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown GOP divided over impeachment trial strategy MORE (R-Utah), Barr said that he wanted to better understand the dynamic between Silicon Valley and the nation’s antitrust officials who have allowed tech companies to grow so big.

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“I’m sort of interested in stepping back and reassessing, or learning more, about how the antitrust division has been functioning and what their priorities are,” said Barr, who previously served as attorney general under the George H.W. Bush administration. “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 the antitrust enforcers.”

He added that he doesn’t know if internet giants have run afoul of antitrust laws.

Barr only said that he wanted to learn more about the DOJ’s antitrust approach and did not indicate whether he would push for a tougher stance towards Silicon Valley if confirmed. 

Still, his comments suggest he is in line with a growing number of lawmakers and consumer advocates that are concerned about the influence companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google wield through their market power.

In a later exchange with Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Senate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack MORE (R-Mo.), who as a state attorney general launched investigations into Facebook and Google, Barr echoed his concerns about their effects on competition and how they handle user privacy.

He declined to address whether the DOJ should involve itself in a Federal Trade Commission investigation into Facebook's handling of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, since it's an active probe that he may have to oversee.

But he made clear that he has a personal interest in the issue of privacy and questions about Big Tech's market power — and believes the DOJ should look into them.

“I would like to wade into some of these issues," Barr told Hawley. "I also am interested in the issue of privacy and the question of who owns this data. It’s not an area 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.”

Updated at 2:27 p.m.