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The Justice Department is working with states on tech investigation, antitrust chief says

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‘I think we just have to have proper, timely and aggressive enforcement of the antitrust laws’

US District Court Rules On U.S. Suit To Stop AT&T Purchase Of Time Warner Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

The Justice Department is working alongside state attorneys general to investigate whether tech platforms like Facebook and Google are stifling competition in the industry, the department’s antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, said.

The statement came only a day after The Wall Street Journal reported that a group of states would be moving forward with an antitrust investigation into the tech sector that could be formally announced later this month. That new state-led probe would put more pressure on tech companies, some of which are already under investigation for potentially anti-competitive behavior by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC’s own antitrust investigation into Facebook could finish up as soon as next year, FTC chair Joe Simons said on Monday. “Any significant case that I’m trying to emphasize,” Simons said. “I would want to be out before the election.”

Delrahim’s comments came during an interview at a Tech Policy Institute conference in Colorado on Tuesday. When asked if Congress should update its current antitrust law to more sufficiently govern the tech industry, Delrahim told reporters, “I don’t think so at this time. I think the laws we have are quite flexible. I think we just have to have proper, timely and aggressive enforcement of the antitrust laws.”

His comments counter some of what Democrats in the House of Representatives have said in recent months. Earlier this year, the House Judiciary Committee’s panel on antitrust opened an investigation into major tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon in hopes of identifying how current law could be updated to better control the tech sector.

“After four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases,” the House Judiciary antitrust chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) said in a statement at the time, “it is critical that Congress step in to determine whether existing laws are adequate to tackle abusive conduct by platform gatekeepers or whether we need new legislation to respond to this challenge.”

The Justice Department opened up its “broad” review of the tech sector in July, but little has bubbled to the surface regarding what exactly the officials are investigating. Delrahim suggested that the department is still requesting and documents and that it “might be issuing compulsory process on some third parties who may or may not need it.”

Delrahim also touched on whether antitrust law could be used to address concerns Republicans have voiced over the past few months regarding alleged “conservative bias” on platforms. “It depends if it’s a competition question,” Delrahim told reporters. “If you have more competition, consumers may have different outlets to go to when a particular quality of a company may not be to their liking.”