Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris today said that the transition of the Chair at the agency will be characterized more by continuity than by conflict. Speaking at the Second Annual Conference of the American Antitrust Institute, Muris praised former Chairman Robert Pitofsky's record and said their areas of agreement far outnumbered areas of dispute.
"Bob and I are of like mind, but have not always agreed," Muris said. "But agreement is not the best basis to evaluate a scholar or a Chairman. A more objective measure is whether he had a coherent, principled vision for the agency and was able to implement it. By this measure, Bob has been a resounding success. Today's Federal Trade Commission is the agency that Pitofsky and his American Bar Association colleagues envisioned some 30 years ago, and he can take enormous credit for this accomplishment."
Speaking of a 1989 ABA Report to which both Pitofsky and Muris contributed, the newly-installed Chairman said, ". . . On consumer protection, differences were largely inconsequential. We agreed that the Commission needed to assert national leadership more aggressively; focus on significant cases, particularly fraud; work closely with the states; and provide clearer guidance to industry."
Muris praised the Commission's work under Pitofsky's leadership to combat fraud and deception in the e-commerce arena, calling the results "impressive."
"While the new medium was still in its infancy, the Commission moved quickly to establish an intellectual framework for applying well-settled consumer protection principles online. It held a series of hearings on Consumer Protection in the High-Tech Global Marketplace, which it used to craft a blueprint for Commission action. With the overall goal of protecting consumers without imposing unnecessary burdens on this emerging marketplace, the plan called for aggressive law enforcement, especially against fraud; consumer and industry education; and the development of policies in areas raising new consumer protection concerns, including privacy."
Muris said, "The online law enforcement program has:
Noting business and industry guidance provided through publications, seminars and workshops conducted during the Pitofsky era, Muris said, "I believe that the Commission's public workshops in recent years have been immensely helpful to consumers and industry, and I intend for the Commission to continue them.
"In addition to applying well-settled consumer protection principles to the Internet, the Commission fostered dialogue among the industry, the public, and the government about developing areas of consumer concern, including online privacy. During Chairman Pitofsky's tenure, the FTC held nine public workshops on privacy issues, worked with industry to encourage self-regulatory efforts, conducted two major surveys of Web sites' privacy practices, and issued a series of Reports to Congress."
"The consumer protection record of the last six years under Pitofsky sets a high bar for future Commissions," Muris said.
". . . Today there is bipartisan recognition that antitrust is a way of organizing our economy. A freely functioning market, subject to the rules of antitrust, provides maximum benefits to consumers," Muris said.
Muris termed attempts to compartmentalize economic analysis as "Chicago" and "Post-Chicago" schools ". . . a sterile exercise. Regarding antitrust, we must have solid economic analysis that is firmly grounded in facts and real world institutions," Muris said. "These traits characterize what might simply be called good economics, rather than economics of any 'school.' Although I have not always agreed with cases brought by the Pitofsky FTC, Commission departures from relying on good economics were exceptions, not the norm."
He pointed to the Pitofsky era use of fact-finding hearings and workshops to ". . . identify the appropriate path of future policies and to formulate a law enforcement and advocacy agenda.
. . . The Pitofsky Commission used the FTC's historically important research and reporting capabilities to shape policy. Future Commissions will no doubt continue to use these unique FTC capabilities."
"The Commission confronted special challenges posed by innovation competition, e-commerce, globalization, and rapid technological change. Although I have disagreed with some of the Pitofsky Commission initiatives here, we agree that the potential for anticompetitive abuse of intellectual property is an increasingly important area. While recognizing the necessity of protecting valid intellectual property rights, future Commissions will no doubt remain active," he concluded.
Copies of the Chairman's speech are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.