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Ruling Could Dampen Government Efforts to Rein in Big Tech | Business News

By MATT O’BRIEN, Associated Press

The Supreme Court’s latest climate change ruling could reduce federal agencies’ efforts to rein in the technology industry, which has been largely uncontrolled for decades as the government seeks to capture changes made through the Internet.

In a 6-3 decision that was narrowly drawn up for environmental protection agencies, the court ruled Thursday that the EPA does not have broad authority to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to global warming. The precedent is expected to invite challenges to other rules set by government agencies.

Alexandra Givens, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based non-profit digital rights organization, said: But I hope the companies will continue to work Their work and push forward. “

The Federal Trade Commission, in particular, is pursuing an aggressive agenda in consumer protection, data privacy and technology industry competition under a leader appointed last year by President Joe Biden.

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Biden’s pick for the five-member Federal Communications Commission follows stronger “net neutrality” protections that prohibit Internet providers from slowing or blocking access to websites and applications that do not pay for premium services.

A former chief technician at the FTC during President Donald Trump’s administration said the ruling could raise some fears among lawyers for the FTC and other federal agencies about how far they can go to create new rules that affect business.

The court “essentially said that when it comes to major policy changes that could transform the entire sector of the economy, Congress must make those choices, not agencies,” said Neil Chilson, now a colleague of Liberal-leaning Stand Together, who founded billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.

Given the disagreement, the argument is that many agencies, especially the FTC, have clear authority and should be able to prevent lawsuits inspired by the EPA decision. He noted that Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion, repeatedly described it as an “extraordinary” situation.

Givens is one of the technology advocates urging Congress to act urgently to legislate to protect digital privacy and other technical issues. But he said laws are usually on the books for decades and it is unrealistic to expect Congress to weigh on every new technological development that calls into question an agency’s mandate.

“We need a democratic system where Congress can give expert agencies the power to solve problems when they arise, even when those problems are unexpected,” he said. “The government literally can’t legislate with Congress on every twist and turn.”

Empowered by Congress in the 1970s to tackle “unfair or fraudulent” business practices, the FTC was at the forefront of Biden’s government-wide mandate to promote competition in some industries, including Big Tech, healthcare and agriculture. A panoply of targets included hearing aid prices, airline luggage fees and the label “United States Products” on food.

Under chair Lina Khan, the FTC has more actively paved the way for new regulations to be written so that critics say a broader explanation of the agency’s legal authority. That initiative could face serious legal challenges in light of the High Court’s decision. The ruling could call into question the agency’s regulatory agenda – which could lead to it being trampled more carefully or facing tougher and more costly legal challenges.

Khan “isn’t really someone who follows a soft system, so it could be a curse-the-torpedo method,” Chilson said.

Ethan Zuckerman, an Internet policy expert at the University of Massachusetts, said it would be difficult to predict any potential impact of the court ruling on existing technology controls. This is partly because “there is not so much technical control for return,” he said.

He said one target could be the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “a bet on many conservatives.” Large companies such as Facebook Parent Meta may also apply potentially stringent enforcement measures on the notion that federal agencies are not explicitly authorized to regulate social media.

“We’re in an unfamiliar territory, a court that is taking a destructive force to the forefront and seems hell-bent on implementing as many right-wing priorities as possible in the shortest possible time,” Zuckerman said.

The ruling could reduce the appetite of companies like the FTC to limit the loss of artificial intelligence and other new technologies. This could have less of an impact on the new rules than in the case of imposing agency more explicitly.

Michael Brooks, chief prosecutor at the nonprofit Auto Safety Center, said the ruling could not change the government’s ability to control automatic safety or self-driving vehicles, although it did open the door to a court challenge.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, has clear authority to regulate automatic safety from the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, Brooks said.

“As long as the rules they are issuing are related to vehicle safety and not something beyond their jurisdiction, unless it is related to safety, I don’t see how the court can end up around the safety law. , “He said.

Unlike the EPA, an agency with multiple, complex jurisdictional powers, NHTSA’s “authority is very clear,” Brooks said.

NHTSA can be a problem if it moves too far out of security control. For example, if it enacts regulations aimed at shifting buyers from SUVs to more fuel-efficient vehicles, it could be discontinued, he said. But the agency has historically stuck with some authority in the energy economy toward automatic safety controls, he said.

However, it is possible that a company like Tesla, which has examined NHTSA’s power limits, could sue and win because of an unexpected Supreme Court ruling, Brooks said.

Mercy Gordon, an Associated Press writer in Washington, Frank Bajak in Boston, and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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