During a House Judicial Committee oversight hearing Thursday, Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) accused the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of trying to influence an independent assessment of Twitter’s privacy practices and “harassing” Twitter to the point of obsession.
According to a new court filing, X CORP’S MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER & RELIEF FROM CONSENT ORDER, the FTC demanded independent assessor Ernst and Young (EY) to “produce a report at the end of the day that would be negative about Twitter,” leading EY officials to fear that withdrawal from the job would lead the FTC to “create other challenges” for them over time.
“This is absolutely what you’ll do and this is going to occur,” the FTC told EY, according to the court filing.
“This motion asks the Court to rein in an investigation that has spiraled out of control and become tainted by bias, and to terminate a misfit consent order that no longer can serve any proper equitable purpose,” Musk’s technology company X Corp argued in the motion. “As detailed below, the FTC has engaged in conduct so irregular and improper that Ernst & Young (“EY”)—the independent assessor designated under a consent order between Twitter and the FTC to evaluate the company’s privacy, data protection, and information security program—“felt as if the FTC was trying to influence the outcome of the engagement before it had started.”
🚨 WOW 🚨
Joe Biden’s FTC wanted Ernst & Young to punish @elonmusk’s Twitter.
If they didn’t, Ernst & Young feared they would be retaliated against by the government. pic.twitter.com/alpxxOcL8U
— House Judiciary GOP 🇺🇸 (@JudiciaryGOP) July 13, 2023
In response to the House Judiciary GOP’s tweet, Musk tweeted “Extremely concerning.”
FTC Chair Lina Khan did her best to defend the FTC’s practices in response to Jordan’s withering line of questions.
Jordan said the FTC began its “targeted harassment” of Twitter after it was purchased by billionaire Elon Musk, issuing more than 350 information requests to the platform seeking “every single communication relating to Elon Musk” since Musk took over the company,” including its work with journalists “working to shed light on the government-driven censorship practices.”
“Why are you harassing them?” Jordan asked Khan. “It actually seems like more than harassment, it seems like an obsession,” he added.
Khan claimed in response that Twitter has a history of lapsed privacy policies and that the company had enabled unauthorized users to co-opt Twitter accounts, including some from Fox News.
“You want to know the name of every journalist a private company has talked to? You think that’s consistent with the First Amendment?” Jordan pressed.
The FYC chair said that as a former journalist, she takes “very seriously the valuable work” that journalists do.
“It’s bad enough that you’ve got the government asking a private company about the journalists they’re talking to … that’s bad enough and I think a threat to the First Amendment Freedom of the Press,” Jordan commented, pointing out that the FTC’s obsession with Twitter coincided with its release of “information about how government had suppressed speech on these platforms.”
Last Fall, Musk released the “Twitter files,” a cache of internal documents revealing the company’s censorship activities, to several journalists who reported what they discovered on the platform. Khan responded that her agency was concerned that doing so violated a consent decree that prohibits Twitter from sharing clients personal information with third parties.
Jordan asked Khan if she was familiar with David Roque, the independent partner for Ernst and Young’s Independent Assessment of Twitter’s program.
Khan said she wasn’t familiar with the name.
“You deposed him last month, June 23, 2023,” he reminded her.
According to Roque’s testimony, the FTC pressured EY to “produce a report at the end of the day that would be negative about Twitter.”
“Mr. Roque testified that FTC’s conduct made him feel as if the FTC was trying to influence the outcome of the engagement before it had started,” the Judiciary Committee chair said. “He said in some of the discussions we were having with the Federal Trade Commission, expectations were being conveyed about what those results should be before we had begun any procedures.”
“This is outrageous,” Jordan declared “This is unacceptable. It’s the kind of behavior that occurs in banana republics, not in the United States of America.”
The congressman noted that the deposition was just filed in court today.
Khan again stated that she was unfamiliar with the court filing, but said she would be “happy to take a closer look at it” and be back in touch.
“I will say, as a general matter, we want to make sure that the assessors and auditors that are responsible for overseeing compliance are doing their job,” Khan said.
Why's Joe Biden's FTC afraid of free speech? pic.twitter.com/hTZIrj2GmN
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) July 13, 2023