Critics Rebut Tech Claim Antitrust Push Risks U.S. Security
(Bloomberg) -- A coalition of anti-monopoly groups attacked the claim by U.S. technology giants that bills aiming to crimp their power pose national security risks, arguing that over-reliance on a handful of companies is more dangerous.
The most powerful U.S. tech companies put shareholder profit over public interest, according to a letter from public advocacy groups obtained by Bloomberg News that rejects warnings about a series of antitrust bills before Congress.
The letter addressed to House leaders seeks to rebut the argument -- voiced recently by several former national security officials -- that moving forward with legislation targeting Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google would disadvantage U.S. companies and compromise their partnerships with the Pentagon.
In the letter, the groups highlight examples including Apple’s supply-chain reliance on China and reports that U.S. tech companies aid in Chinese surveillance and censorship. The groups argue that business decisions in the interest of creating value for shareholders will always win out over national security and human rights concerns.
“Big Tech is not here to help national security or the public interest, but to maintain monopoly rents and market power,” the groups write. “It is codified in their corporate structure and law. It is the government’s job to protect our national security, not Mark Zuckerberg’s.”
Lucas Kunce, national security director at the American Economic Liberties Project, one of the groups that signed the letter, said there are several layers of risk in relying on a small number of private companies motivated by profit. Kunce, a Marine officer who is running as a Democrat for Missouri’s Senate seat in 2022, said in addition to the vulnerabilities associated with the companies themselves, market concentration decreases the options of products and services available to the Defense Department.
In addition to the American Economic Liberties Project, the letter was signed by the Center for Digital Democracy, Demand Progress, Public Citizen and the Revolving Door Project.
The groups are concerned “that Big Tech has too much power in the country, that they’re undermining democracy, that they control our politics and everything else,” Kunce said in a phone interview. “It’s very clear that they’re using national security as a guise to try to protect their power.”
A paper published last month by a tech industry group said legislation that targets a handful of U.S. tech firms gives an undue advantage to global competitors and would undo the main objective of another Senate bill to invest in U.S. innovation and counter technological advances in China.
Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who advised on the paper, said lawmakers should consult with national security experts and intelligence committees before pushing the antitrust bills forward.
Coats also said the very size and reach of the tech companies makes them valuable partners for the U.S. government. Proposals that would restrict how companies offer their own products to consumers -- or would force divestiture of certain lines of business -- would jeopardize that partnership, he said.
That model may work for state-sponsored monopolies in China, according to the advocacy groups’ letter, but the U.S. “will never be able to out-compete China on market size and numbers.”
“America’s asymmetric advantage is its ability to foster innovation and creativity through competition and open markets,” the letter says. “Supporting Big Tech monopolists undermines that advantage and leaves us competing with China on market size and the ability of our government to direct our corporations. That is a competition we can never and should never win.”
Kunce, who worked on acquisitions at the Pentagon and is familiar with defense partnerships with the private sector, said competition is good for innovation, which could drive better offerings for national security. He cited Boeing Co., the country’s only commercial aircraft manufacturer, which has enjoyed decades of support from the U.S. government but has run into a raft of product challenges in recent years.
The four antitrust bills in question were advanced by the House Judiciary Committee in June but have yet to get a floor vote. Senators have said they plan to introduce similar bills as soon as this month.
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