Al Franken: How Privacy Has Become an Antitrust Issue‏

From The Huffington Post:

Below is the speech delivered by Sen. Franken (D-Minn.) to the American Bar Association Atnitrust Section as prepared for delivery.

More than a century ago – with manufacturing conglomerates engaged in widespread anti-competitive behavior, hundreds of short-line railroads consolidating into omnipotent transport concerns, and Standard Oil building a monopoly – America decided it was time to take action.

As Senator John Sherman said, “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessities of life.”

A country whose most cherished values include the principle of responsive democracy must have a political system in which elected officials are accountable to the people. And a country committed to a free market economy must have laws ensuring that corporations remain accountable to the market.

Antitrust law isn’t about protecting competing businesses from each other, it’s about protecting competition itself on behalf of the public.

That’s a simple idea in theory. But over the last century, we’ve seen that it isn’t so simple in practice. Changing technologies, changing marketplaces, and even changing trends in anti-competitive practices have all presented challenges to antitrust enforcement.

Now, I’m not a lawyer. But neither are most Minnesotans – the people I represent. And my interest in antitrust law isn’t academic in nature, because the effect of antitrust enforcement on the lives of Americans isn’t academic in nature, either.

Whether or not those responsible for protecting the free market from unfair competition are able to rise to these challenges has a direct impact on the economic security of working families. And I’ve come here today to urge you all to treat antitrust enforcement the same way I urge my colleagues to treat the tax code or the budget: with a keen understanding of what your work will mean for the middle class.

The complications involved in enforcing antitrust laws, the dangers posed to consumers when we fail to do so effectively, and the roadmap for how to better serve the antitrust mission in the years ahead can all be seen in the case of AT&T.

A century ago, AT&T and the other Bell Companies began to build a monopoly over telephone service in America, buying up as many small, independent phone companies as they could. Their best weapon was AT&T’s technologically superior long distance network – access to which they denied to any remaining local independent carriers.

This was exactly the sort of anti-competitive behavior the government had begun to take seriously at that time – but universal telephone service was an important national priority, and AT&T convinced the Wilson administration that a monopoly could best achieve that goal. Besides, it argued, if that monopoly were effectively regulated, it would be just like if we had a competitive marketplace. What could go wrong?
Over the next 70 years, we found out.

Continue reading at The Huffington Post