Two conservatives are poised to assume positions of power and influence over technology policy in the Bush administration, and their views could alter debates over online privacy, antitrust and broadband open access.
During Senate confirmation hearings last week, law professor Timothy Muris, 51, promised to “study” the privacy issue in greater depth than he has in the past. Muris, slated to become the next chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, did not state whether he would support legislation regulating how privacy is protected online, despite senators repeated nudging. But Muris is known to be extremely conservative on antitrust issues, and critics contend that, as a Reagan administration official at the FTC, he spent a good deal of time dismantling regulations.
Bruce Mehlman, the Cisco Systems lobbyist nominated to be the assistant secretary for technology policy at the Department of Commerce, was also questioned about his views on online privacy. He responded to a query from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by saying he has “seen a pretty good effort by businesses to get their own houses in order.”
“We all seem to have the same goal,” Mehlman said. “How can we get there without providing solutions that cause undue consequences if they are over-regulatory?”
Technology policy lobbyists were more forthcoming about the candidates, particularly Muris, who has spent most of his working life in Washington, D.C., and has held several senior positions at the FTC. At age 32, Mehlman is extremely young to be awarded such a senior policy position, but he too is familiar with the nations capital, having worked for the Republican Party and for D.C. law firms before moving over to Cisco in 1999.
Wayne Crews, director of technology policy at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, championed Muris as a true disciple of deregulation who “understands that regulations always transfer wealth, and antitrust is no different.”
Another Muris advocate, Jeffrey Eisenach, president of conservative think tank The Progress & Freedom Foundation, where Muris is an associate scholar, said, “You couldnt drive a dime between [Muris] and me” on antitrust policy.
Eisenach labeled “bizarre” the FTCs decision last year to weigh in on the merger between America Online and Time Warner, and charged that the commission “showed extremely bad judgment.”
“I would say that the FTCs action in that merger does not comport with the kind of antitrust [philosophy] I have and I think Tim shares,” he said.
But Jamie Love, president of the Consumer Project on Technology, criticized the FTCs action on the merger as too light. With deregulation fans like Muris in charge, he said, “The danger is you end up with too much monopoly and too much anticompetitive behavior, and the policeman on the beat doesnt believe in law enforcement.”
With regard to Mehlman, Eisenach called him “extremely bright,” and said his nomination shows that Secretary of Commerce Don Evans is focused on technology.
“It is Evans intention to use [Mehlman and whomever Bush nominates to be the undersecretary of commerce for technology] to coordinate the overall technology policy activities of the Commerce Department, which are broad-sweeping and important,” he said.
Congress is expected to confirm both Muris and Mehlman.