There is no doubt that working from home has become a new normal for millions of employees worldwide, and for some, this may be the future of their employment. When the workforce made the shift to remote work and online meeting navigation, Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (“Zoom”) quickly became the frontrunning platform. Many companies flocked to Zoom because of its alleged higher levels of security and encryption capabilities. However, a recent lawsuit against Zoom, by nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog, reveals that Zoom may not actually be as safe for users as it once claimed to be. Other lawsuits allege privacy concerns including Zoom sending user data to Facebook. Most recently, the FTC filed a suit against Zoom on November 9th for allegations of unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (“UDAAP”) related to encryption, cloud storage, third-party safeguards, and failure to disclose information to users. Though various privacy concerns arise, the platform’s popularity continues to increase given its newfound necessity.
The current social and political climate, as well as our planet’s environmental climate, have shown the new role that corporations play in society. The pandemic and the current social upheaval seen worldwide have increased the need for real and meaningful corporate commitment to social responsibility.
Whistleblowers are crucial to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) ability to enforce regulatory standards. Because of their knowledge, they can help the SEC protect investors and capital markets, as well as hold those performing unlawful conduct accountable. Through Section 21F of the Exchange Act the SEC has power to award whistleblowers for the information they provide. Last month, an amendment was added to this section altering the rules of whistleblower award allocations.
With the rapid innovation of technology penetrating our lives comes the need for increased regulation on the industries that are being impacted, and the stock market is no different. In the late nineties, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved the use of an electronic stock exchange system and by 1998, they authorized the use of High- Frequency Trading (HFT). HFT is a method of electronic stock trading where the trader uses high powered technology to complete automated trading at a large volume and speed. Because these trades are not made by people, but instead computers, they can be executed within millionths of a second. As the speed that HFTs have allowed for stocks to be traded at has decreased over time, their popularity has increased. By 2012, it was estimated that HFT accounted for almost 50 percent of all U.S. equity trades. Their popularity is contributed to HFT’s ability to allow traders to ensure they have the most up to date information on the market and ensure that they get the lowest price. This gives traders the power to buy and sell at high speeds, increasing liquidity in the market.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has shaken the world economy, not the least of which the financial industry. As the financial industry has adapted to work-from-home life under the coronavirus pandemic, industry regulators such as the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) have been forced to adapt rules to changing circumstances and shift their enforcement priorities to pandemic related fraud.
At the end of January, the Federal Reserve Board, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “Agencies”) approved a notice of proposed rulemaking (“Proposed Rule”) to amend the “covered fund” provisions of section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act, also known as the “Volcker Rule” (the “Rule”). The Volcker Rule is a regulation that generally prohibits banks from certain investment activities with their own accounts and limits their dealings with private equity and hedge funds, also known as “covered funds.”
This October, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed an emergency action and obtained a temporary restraining order in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against two offshore entities, Telegram Group Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, TON Issuer Inc. The SEC’s complaint asserted that the two offshore entities were conducting an unregistered offering of securities in the form of digital tokens in the United States and overseas, raising $1.7 billion to finance the businesses, including the development of its own blockchain the “Telegram Open Network” or “TON Blockchain.”
The Supreme Court has granted certiorari to consider whether the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has the authority to obtain disgorgement in district court actions. Disgorgement is the repayment of “ill-gotten gains” imposed as a court sanction to recover funds that were received through illegal or unethical business transactions. These recovered or disgorged funds are paid back with interest to those who the practice affected. Each year, the SEC obtains billions of dollars in disgorgement, so an adverse ruling by the Supreme Court could eliminate one of the SEC’s most important remedies for securities violations. In 2018, for example, the agency returned $794 million to harmed investors.
Although the nation’s longest-ever government shutdown has ended, agencies forced to furlough employees and shutter temporarily are still facing the effects of the funding gap. On January 25th, President Trump agreed to sign a continuing resolution that will reopen and fund the federal government through February 15th. The government reboot means that the roughly 800,000 federal employees furloughed or forced to work without pay should expect to receive their back pay soon, but the thirty-five-day suspension of government functions comes with significant aftershock. While various regulatory agencies scramble to address their backlog of work, life for Americans who interact with these agencies has been hindered indefinitely.
Both the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Labor (DOL) are pushing ahead with fiduciary standards for investment advisers despite the 5th Circuit striking down the DOL’s previous fiduciary rule earlier this year.