Despite all the chaos in D.C., it is altogether possible that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has had the worst month.
The FTC had one of its four commissioners resign very publicly. Commissioner Christine Wilson published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal citing her reasons for leaving the panel. In the piece, Wilson listed a number of instances of overreach and abuse by FTC Chair Lina Khan, “Khan’s focus on arbitrary social goals instead of consumer welfare will result in higher prices, suppressed production, fewer choices, and dampened innovation.” Wilson continued, “I have failed repeatedly to persuade Ms. Khan and her enablers to do the right thing, and I refuse to give their endeavor any further hint of legitimacy.”
Wilson’s resignation brings the FTC down to three commissioners. Fully functioning, the panel is supposed to have five members – three from the party controlling the executive branch and two from the opposing party. The Commission already had a vacant seat after the resignation of Republican member Noah Phillips in October of last year. Phillips noted the lack of openness to discussion and compromise at the agency as one of his reasons for leaving. Now, the agency stands as the purely partisan entity it has largely acted as of late, dramatically harming its legitimacy.
However, that is not the only debacle that has landed the FTC in the news over the last month. The agency just lost a high profile case against Meta – parent company of Facebook. The FTC was suing Meta for its planned acquisition of a virtual reality fitness company, Within. The agency flip-flopped on its own legal justifications during the case. Ultimately, their case boiled down to “potential perceived competition” between Within and Meta’s virtual reality music game, Beat Saber – an argument that is specious at best.
That lawsuit was undertaken despite the opposition of the FTC’s career staff. Chair Khan decided to go it alone and got soundly defeated in a court of law. Just days later, the FTC decided to abandon the pursuit altogether, dropping follow-ups or appeals. What the case amounted to was a goose chase, funded by taxpayer dollars that was doomed to fail from the start.
The FTC is also getting hammered for another court case in which it is now embroiled. An Idaho judge recently ruled the FTC’s lawsuit against the state-based tech company Kochava can continue. The agency’s complaint accuses Kochava of making it possible to sell “sensitive geolocation data.” It mentions data tied to abortion clinics, places of worship, or domestic abuse shelters.
It is important to know that the term “sensitive geolocation data” does not exist in American law. The FTC is extrapolating fairly regular business practices into a sensationalized case. Then, they initiated a lawsuit based on legal definitions that do not exist. This comes after Kochava pre-emptively sued the FTC, claiming that the agency illegally threatened them with a lawsuit if they didn’t settle on a pre-existing case. Sure enough, Chair Khan has seemingly confirmed that threat was real.
The world also turned its attention to Capitol Hill for a hearing on government censorship, particularly concerning the “Twitter Files.” A group of journalists teamed up with Twitter’s new management team to release files disclosing how policymakers on both sides of the aisle, including the Biden administration, sought to influence the company’s content moderation decisions.
It was revealed that the FTC sent dozens of letters to Twitter owner Elon Musk, demanding the names of the journalists with which he communicated. The agency’s demands were revealed by the House GOP’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. This was a blatant effort to suppress a legitimate First Amendment activity by journalists and a private company.
The government has grown significantly larger over the last few years and astronomically so since the drafting of the Constitution. While the government’s size breeds waste, fraud, and abuse at all agencies, the last month has shown that the FTC is the epitome of government overreach. Lawmakers need to take a serious look at reining it in through real oversight.