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Debunking Big Retail’s Truthiness

In the waning days of Congress, a handful of retailers and their supporters are trying jam through a trio of bills that would place a serious and unnecessary burden on e-commerce. I have the honor of testifying today before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security,  where I’ll do my best to point out the danger of these prescriptive, ill-conceived bills.



At issue are three pieces of legislation — H.R. 6713, H.R. 6491 and S. 3434 — all of which ostensibly aim to address the problems of “organized retail crime” and “e-fencing.”


What the bills really do, however, is cut law enforcers out of the law enforcement equation, giving retailers free reign to bully and intimidate online marketplaces and their customers.


All three bills would give retailers the power to force online marketplaces to interrogate their own customers about how they obtained items listed for sale.   This has the effect of presuming that sellers are listing stolen items – unless they can affirmatively prove their ownership.


It’s been clear for a long time that many traditional, brick-and-mortar retailers would like to see the online marketplace and its pro-consumer, pro-competition benefits simply disappear. These bills represent their best attempt to speed that process along.


In its written testimony before the Committee, the National Retail Federation maintains that online selling has “addictive qualities” and causes people to steal who’ve never stolen before. It’s more than a little disturbing to have an organization that is so clearly out of touch with the Internet trying to legislate how it functions.


The sadly ironic thing about all of this is that major online retailers like eBay and Overstock have consistently received high marks for their strong cooperation with law enforcement in addressing legitimate e-fencing issues. Online marketplaces have no interest in hosting crime, and are actively engaged in cracking down on it, in away that allows legitimate commerce to flourish.


As is so often the case in this area, the real focus of retailers seems to be on squashing competition, rather than cracking down on criminals.