Attorney General: Communications Will Be Focus of Antitrust Division

Tells Judiciary He's Open to Suggestions on Prosecuting Cyberattackers
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Attorney General Eric Holder said that communications would be one of the sectors on which Justice's antitrust division would focus. He also signaled he was open to suggestions as to how to better prosecute cybercrimes.

That came in a March 6 Justice Oversight hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In response to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) about whether communications would be one of the focuses of Justice antitrust enforcement, he said yes, that it was among a number of sectors where the department would focus on lower prices and more competition for consumers.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse signaled that there would be an upcoming hearing on the issue of pursuing the perpetrators of bot net attacks, like those attributed to China, where an attack is purely online, with a hacker stealing intellectual property.

Whitehouse conceded that the cases were extremely complicated, but also extremely important to focus on. He pointed out that there has not been a prosecution for such pure-play online industrial espionage, only those where there was some kind of physical element like "a CD in someone's pocket."

Holder said he would be willing to send a Justice witness and would be open to suggestions on how to better pursue those cases. It appeared to be partly an issue of finding the resources in a time of budget cutting, a point both Holder and Whitehouse made.

Whitehouse said that he wanted cybersecurity legislation to supplement the president's recent executive order, which mandated the creation of voluntary best practices guidelines and greater government sharing of cybersecurity threat info with industry.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) invoked cyberattacks during his questioning as well, but in the context of proposed gun controls, painting a zombie-like portrait of apocalypse. Holder in his opening statement had championed the banning of "military-style assault weapons."

He told Holder that if there were a cyberattack and the power went down and chemical plants began leaking and Graham's family was in the crosshairs of roving gangs, he would feel more comfortable with an AR-15 than the Vice President's suggested double-barreled shotgun. 

Whitehouse also signaled there would be a hearing on Justice's enforcement of campaign finance laws and Holder said he would be glad to send a Justice witness to that, too.

During his questioning, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked Holder whether he thought it was "odd" that the government "would indict someone for crimes that would carry penalties of up to 35 years in prison and million dollar fines, and then offer him a three or four month prison sentence?" The reference was to the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the Internet and social activist who died of an apparent suicide Jan. 11 almost a year to the day after he helped derail antipiracy legislation Cornyn ultimately opposed.

Holder said he thought it was a "good use of prosecutorial discretion," and said the case was not one of "prosecutorial overreach or misconduct."

Cornyn had asked Holder to look into that prosecution as a potential overreach.