Overnight Regulation: FTC to probe Facebook over user data | FDA takes step to regulating flavors in tobacco products | Congress may include background check measure in funding bill
Welcome to Overnight Regulations, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill and the courts. It’s the first day of spring with a snowstorm forecast for Washington. Oh, and government funding expires on Friday.
THE BIG STORY
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is launching an investigation into Facebook over whether it violated terms of a 2011 consent decree in the wake of reports a data firm harvested information from millions of profiles.
The investigation relates to whether Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica, the data firm used by the Trump campaign, to obtain some Facebook users’ personal data in violation of its policies, according to reports Tuesday.
“We are aware of the issues that have been raised but cannot comment on whether we are investigating,” an FTC spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We take any allegations of violations of our consent decrees very seriously as we did in 2012 in a privacy case involving Google.”
The FTC fined Google $22.5 million in that case for collecting data on users of Apple’s Safari browser without their knowledge. Google at the time had been under a consent decree with the FTC for an earlier privacy violation. The FTC said the Safari incident violated that agreement.
Facebook reached a similar consent decree with the FTC in 2011 over charges that it deceived users into thinking their information was private even though it was being shared publicly. That agreement prohibits Facebook from making “misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information.”
Facebook officials head to Capitol Hill this week. On the agenda: discussing the controversy around Cambridge Analytica’s alleged misuse of its platform. Ali Breland has the story. The meetings come amid mounting pressure on Facebook to provide more answers to Congress.
And… A self-described whistleblower on data firm Cambridge Analytica’s data harvesting practices is slated to give an interview to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. John Bowden has more here.
ON TAP FOR WEDNESDAY
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds an oversight hearing for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health holds a hearing on prevention and public health solutions in the opioid fight. Lawmakers will hear from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and other public health officials.
Health care: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took its first step Tuesday in trying to determine how it should regulate flavors in tobacco products, which appeal to children but may play a role in helping some adult smokers move to potentially less harmful tobacco products.
On Tuesday, the FDA issued an advance notice of proposed rulesmaking, soliciting stakeholder comments for the next 90 days on data, research and information on the role flavors — including menthol cigarettes — play in tobacco usage, initiation and cessation.
“In the spirit of our commitment to preventing kids from using tobacco, we are taking a closer look at flavors in tobacco products to better understand their level of impact on youth initiation,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press release.
I’ve got you covered here.
Guns: Congress is considering attaching a narrow background check bill for gun purchases to a must-pass government funding package before the end of the week, as thousands of high school students are set to congregate Saturday in Washington for the March for Our Lives calling for an end to gun violence.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday said leadership was actively talking to members about adding the background legislation, shortly after news broke of a new school shooting on Tuesday morning in Maryland.
“That’s something we’re discussing with our colleagues,” Ryan told reporters in the Capitol, referring to the bipartisan Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background System) Act.
“I think we should do Fix NICS. I agree with Fix NICS,” Ryan added. “That’s something we’re discussing with our friends on the other side of the aisle.”
Technology: Lawyers for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and telecom giant AT&T on Tuesday previewed their cases ahead of opening arguments as the company seeks permission to merge with Time Warner Inc.
Reuters reports that the Trump administration argues that should the merger go through, AT&T could force Time Warner customers to sign up for its DirectTV service by withholding programming from them.
The Justice Department is suing to block the $85 billion merger, arguing it would raise rates for customers and harm competition. The merger, the DOJ estimates, would cause the average American’s cable bill to rise by about 45 cents.
Background: The case has been in the national spotlight since President Trump first mentioned the deal as worrying during his campaign. In office, Trump has also called the proposed merger “not good for the country.” Hovering over the proposed merger has been Trump’s feud with Time Warner network CNN. The White House has denied the president influenced the DOJ’s decision to block the merger.
Courts: Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared skeptical of a California law requiring licensed anti-abortion clinics to post notices telling women that state-funded abortions are available in a case that pits abortion access against free speech rights.
Anti-abortion clinics argue they are being unfairly targeted for their views and forced to advocate for a procedure they morally oppose under California’s Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency, or FACT, Act. The notices required by the legislation must include a number to contact the state for more information on abortions.
Chief Justice John Roberts wanted to know if the state could require an adoption services organization to post the same notice if it advertises adoption as an alternative to abortion.
“Could the state make them include the disclosure requirement that you have with respect to licensed facilities because that’s an alternative to pregnancy?” he asked.
The Department of Justice, which intervened in the case, argued the requirements for the unlicensed centers should be subject to a lower standard of judicial review than the requirements for licensed centers, since the state is regulating the speech of a professional that’s related to their own services.
Environment: Four animal rights groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over its recent policy change on U.S. elephant trophy imports, warning that the new decisions won’t be based on science.
The groups — which include The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the Humane Society and Born Free U.S.A. — ask the court to review FWS’s new policy, making the point that the change to determine animal trophy hunting imports on a case-by-case basis is “unlawful” and violates the Endangered Species Act.
The groups argue that Interior’s new policy, issued March 1, is “arbitrary and capricious.” They also question the science behind the agency’s decision to switch from a blanket ban of African elephant trophy hunting imports from key African nations to case-by-case allowances.
Health care: A top-ranking Senate Democrat said she was concerned about the Trump administration’s reported choice to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sent a letter to President Trump, saying she was worried about Robert Redfield’s lack of public health experience, as well as his controversial past as an AIDS researcher.
Background: In the 1990s, Redfield was investigated for misrepresenting data to promote an AIDS vaccine that he was connected with. Earlier in his career, Redfield also advocated for policies like mandatory patient testing for HIV, and for segregating HIV-positive soldiers from the rest of the Army.
Transportation: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Monday called upon the agency’s Office of Inspector General to issue an audit of the Florida bridge collapse that killed six people.
In a letter, Chao asked Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III to determine if the project team near Florida International University (FIU) adhered to the relevant requirements mandated by its federal funding.
The bridge had been installed earlier this month using modular construction and utilized some funding from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program. The Federal Highway Administration also gave FIU some funds to complete the project, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Mallory Shelbourne has the rundown.
Health care: A law in Mississippi that bans women from receiving abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy was temporarily blocked Tuesday by a federal judge.
The Associated Press reported that U.S District Judge Carlton Reeves granted a temporary restraining order on Tuesday. It was sought by the state’s only clinic that offers abortions.
The law, signed earlier this week, bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, down from a 20-week restriction already on Mississippi’s books.
Environment: The cost of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s Italy trip has risen above $84,000.
New EPA travel documents show Pruitt’s personal security detail racked up $30,553.80 in travel expenses between June 5 and 12 of last year. Added to previously disclosed costs, the documents put the total taxpayer cost of the trip above $84,000.
During that time period, Pruitt was visiting Italy for meetings at the Vatican and to meet with international energy ministers at a summit. The administrator heavily photographed and tweeted about his time abroad.
Travel vouchers previously obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) put the cost to taxpayers above $53,000 for the Italy trip, but did not include costs for his 24-hour security detail.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the cost for Pruitt’s security detail followed protocol.
More environment: The Trump administration is planning to put new restrictions on the kind of scientific studies and data that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can use to craft its regulations.
The EPA wants to stop using scientific findings whose data and methodologies are not public or cannot be replicated, the Daily Caller reported Tuesday.
It aligns in part with a years-long effort by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to stop the use of “secret science” at the EPA.
Drones: President Trump is expected to make it easier for lethal U.S.-made drones to be purchased by U.S. allies and partners as part of the White House’s “Buy American” program, Reuters reported Tuesday.
U.S. drone manufacturers have reportedly been pushing the administration to make the change as a result of increased competition from Chinese and Israeli manufacturers.
“We’re getting outplayed all over the world,” one unnamed U.S. official told Reuters. “Why can our competitors sell to our own allies the equipment they are clamoring to buy from us? This policy is meant to turn that around.”
IN OTHER NEWS
SEC urges exchanges to end standoff on trading data — The Wall Street Journal
Facebook regulatory risk is higher after big data leak, analyst says — CNBC
G20 agrees to ‘monitor’ cryptocurrencies but no action yet — Reuters
Toyota halts its self-driving car testing in wake of Uber crash — The Verge
UK probes Facebook’s response after Cambridge Analytica data breach reports — NBC News