[EDITORIALS]A request for too much powerThe Fair Trade Commission is seeking the right to conduct mandatory investigations of companies, including search and seizure rights. The antitrust agency wants to vest its investigators with the status of judicial police officers because, it says, companies suspected of colluding in price-fixing do not cooperate in investigations.
But if this right is granted to the commission, it could be abused and there could be many negative effects, such as the leaking of companies’ secrets. The agency already has the right to conduct on-the-spot surveys, to require companies to turn over documents and to require financial institutions to disclose information about their customers’ transactions.
Those rights are sufficient for general investigations. If the commission had the right of mandatory investigation in addition to those rights, the agency would become the strongest power after the prosecutors. Is it necessary or desirable for the agency to have such power?
The commission insists on the necessity of its right of mandatory investigation, referring to recent cases in which companies have obstructed the agency’s investigations. But the agency had long demanded the right of mandatory investigation, in order to extend its authority, before those cases occurred. It is also demanding that the right to require financial institutions to disclose information, whose term has been temporarily extended, should become a permanent authority.
The right of mandatory investigation, including search and seizure, is needed mainly in criminal cases. Customs officials have the status of judicial police officers because they have to search suspected smugglers. Forest wardens also have this status since they must prevent poaching and fires. It is doubtful whether price-fixing is on the same level with those crimes.
The tax agency officials who investigate suspected tax evasion cases don’t have the status of judicial police officers. If the prearrangement of prices between companies is an illegality serious enough for strong investigations, the commission should report such companies to the prosecutors so that they can be punished by a court ruling. It is excessive for the agency to demand the right of mandatory investigation in a situation where there is criticism that the right to impose fines on companies according to its own investigations infringes on the power of the judiciary. Government agencies should not introduce any regulatory authority that can infringe on the freedom of individuals and companies.