The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has demanded that Twitter Inc. provide all internal communications related to owner Elon Musk and “identify all journalists” granted access to company records, according to documents released by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee.
Musk decried the Biden administration’s apparent violation of the First Amendment on Twitter, Tuesday: “This is a serious attack on the Constitution by a federal agency,” the billionaire tweeted.
This is a serious attack on the Constitution by a federal agency.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 7, 2023
Upon becoming “Chief Twit,” Musk dramatically reduced Twitter’s workforce in an effort to keep the company afloat.
Since Musk’s October 27 takeover, the FTC has been engaged in a massive fishing expedition, sending over 12 letters to Twitter with more than 350 demands, including detailed information regarding the layoffs.
Following these disclosures, the FTC acknowledged on Wednesday that it has launched a wide-ranging investigation into Twitter’s privacy practices.
“We are concerned these staff reductions impact Twitter’s ability to protect consumers’ information,” an FTC official wrote to Twitter’s lawyers, according to a copy of the letter viewed by the Wall Street Journal.
Twitter signed an FTC consent agreement in 2011 that was updated in 2022 requiring the platform to “maintain a robust information security program that protects user data.” The 2011 decree was reportedly “designed to force the company to improve its protection of user data.”
The FTC, which is led by “antitrust hipster” Democrat Lina Khan, has also demanded that Twitter provide information regarding its revised Twitter Blue subscription service which provides Twitter a revenue stream separate from its advertising revenue.
The FTC’s demand letters were obtained by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee’s Weaponization Select Subcommittee, which published excerpts of them in a staff report Tuesday, titled: “The Weaponization of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): An Agency’s Overreach to Harass Elon Musk’s Twitter.”
In their report, the Judiciary Republicans claim that “the timing, scope, and frequency of the FTC’s demands to Twitter suggest a partisan motivation to its action.”
“When Musk took action to reorient Twitter around free speech, the FTC regularly followed soon thereafter with a new demand letter,” the report states. “The ostensible legal basis for the demand letters—including monitoring Twitter’s privacy and information security program under a revised consent decree between the company and the FTC—fails to provide adequate cover for the FTC’s action.”
The GOP-led judiciary panel argues that information relating to journalists’ work is protected by the First Amendment and has no bearing on the FTC’s probe.
Other FTC demands that “have little to no nexus to users’ privacy and information,” according to the Republican members, include:
• Every single internal communication “relating to Elon Musk,” by any Twitter personnel—including communications sent or received by Musk—not limited by subject matter, since the day Musk bought the company;
• Information about whether Twitter is “selling its office equipment”;
• All of the reasons why Twitter terminated former Twitter employee and FBI official Jim Baker;
• When Twitter “first conceived of the concept for Twitter Blue,” Twitter’s new $8/month verified account subscription; and
• Information disaggregated by “each department, division, and/or team,” regardless of whether the work done by these units had anything to do with privacy or information security.
“The Committee does not dispute that protecting user privacy and mitigating information security risks are important duties,” the report states. “Because of its consent decree with Twitter, the FTC has the authority to monitor how Twitter is protecting users’ private information, such as their phone numbers and email addresses.”
The Republican members argued however that the FTC’s demands of Twitter “have no rational basis in user privacy.”
“There is no logical reason, for example, why the FTC needs to know the identities of journalists engaging with Twitter,” the report said. “There is no logical reason why the FTC, on the basis of user privacy, needs to analyze all of Twitter’s personnel decisions. And there is no logical reason why the FTC needs every single internal Twitter communication about Elon Musk.”
FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar told the WSJ that the agency’s Twitter probe began long before Musk bought the company.
“Protecting consumers’ privacy is exactly what the FTC is supposed to do,” FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar told the WSJ. He said the agency is “conducting a rigorous investigation into Twitter’s compliance with a consent order that came into effect long before Mr. Musk purchased the company.”
Farrar also claimed that the FTC’s demands for information regarding “third parties, including journalists” are routine under a consent order.
The inquiries by the FTC follow massive layoffs implemented by Mr. Musk that have raised concerns within the agency about the ability of the company to comply with a $150 million settlement related to alleged privacy violations.
In November, the FTC said its order accompanying the 2022 settlement “gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are prepared to use them…no CEO or company is above the law.”
FTC Chairman Lina Khan said in December that the agency wants “to make sure that we’re fully enforcing the orders that we have on the books.” She also said that the 2022 Twitter order was “much more prescriptive, much more detailed” than a previous FTC settlement with the company from 2011.
Mr. Musk told Twitter employees in November the company will do whatever it takes to follow both the letter and the spirit of the FTC order, the Journal reported at the time.
Mr. Musk said in December that the company’s workforce had been reduced to roughly 2,000 from 8,000, triggering debate on whether tech companies generally are overstaffed as well as questions about Twitter’s ability to comply with security practices and perform other functions.
In remarks at a tech conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Mr. Musk said Twitter would have gone bankrupt in a few months if he hadn’t taken steps to slash costs.
The GOP-led judiciary panel’s report notes that Musk’s efforts “to revitalize freedom of speech online” appears to have been met with politically motivated opposition.
“The FTC’s demands did not occur in a vacuum. They appear to be the result of loud voices on the left—including elected officials—urging the federal government to intervene in Musk’s
acquisition and management of the company,” the report states. “The FTC’s harassment of Twitter is likely due to one fact: Musk’s self-described “absolutist” commitment to free expression in the digital town square.”
The agency is seeking to depose Musk in connection with its investigation.
The FTC could impose financial penalties, business restrictions, and/or sanctions if it concludes that Twitter violated the 2022 consent decree.