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Barr Taking Over Antitrust Probes of Silicon Valley Tech Companies

Attorney General William Barr in Washington, D.C., December 10, 2019 (Al Drago/Reuters)

Attorney General William Barr has tightened his control of the Justice Department’s antitrust probes over the last several months, a move that could spell trouble for Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley tech giants.

The attorney general, along with his deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and several other officials, have personally taken over the antitrust probes, Politico reported Monday. The move makes good on a promise Barr made during his confirmation hearing, when he vowed antitrust issues would be a priority for him.

“I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers,” Barr said at the time.

Barr’s more focused oversight of the probes has effectively pushed aside the head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim. Because of Delrahim’s previous legal work for Google, he and the official directly under him, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Barry Nigro, were both recused from the Google investigation as of earlier this month.

Barr, a former attorney for Time Warner and Verizon, dealt with antitrust issues in that capacity, a fact that critics of Silicon Valley have said gives them more faith in him despite the increased pressure on the companies.

The DOJ is considering reforming a federal law that protects online companies from being held to account over user-generated content, although companies can still be held liable for content that breaks criminal or intellectual property laws. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have recommended changing the law, a move some tech executives say would harm the internet’s expansion and freedom of expression.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said last year that the law has encouraged “good faith attempts to mitigate the unavoidable downsides of free expression.” Katherine Oyama, Google’s global head of intellectual property policy, has agreed, saying the statute incentivizes “action against harmful content.”

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