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Facebook's Hire of Patriot Act Co-Author Raises Questions

Published: April 24, 2019
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Source: Common Dreams

 

"What could go wrong?"

 
Sometimes I feel like, somebody's watching me.

Sometimes I feel like, somebody's watching me. (Image: Flickr)

Social media giant Facebook made a major hire Monday, bringing on lawyer Jennifer Newstead as the company's general counsel—a move that generated criticism due to Newstead's work two decades ago drafting the Patriot Act.

The company announced the hire by citing Newstead's extensive work in government. Most recently, Newstead acted as the legal adviser for the State Department.

During her time in the Bush administration, Newstead was known for being the "day to day manager of the Patriot Act in Congress," according to torture memo author John Yoo.

"Jennifer is a seasoned leader whose global perspective and experience will help us fulfill our mission," Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in a statement.

Newstead referred to Facebook's role in the public discourse in a statement released by the company.

"Facebook's products play an important role in societies around the world," said Newstead. "I am looking forward to working with the team and outside experts and regulators on a range of legal issues as we seek to uphold our responsibilities and shared values."

Newstead's history in government, though, triggered criticism of Facebook for putting her in a position of power—especially in light of recent comments from the company's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that emphasized a more secure and private experience for users.

The Observer, in a report on the hire, took a skeptical view of Newstead's past as far as it related to tech.

Ironically, the newly minted Facebook chief lawyer has made a career out of helping the government gain access to private citizens' data in the name of security. Perhaps the most notable of Newstead's work is helping draft and present Congress with the Patriot Act, a post-9/11 bill that helped the Bush administration utilize Americans' phone and internet records.

Thus, as technologist Ashkan Soltani pointed out to Politico, the hire of Newstead is incompatible with the company's public pivot to privacy.

 

"It's almost as if we're living in some bizarro world where the company does exactly the opposite of what Zuckerberg states publicly," said Soltani.

Fight For the Future deputy director Evan Greer mused about how Newstead's hiring fits into an ostensibly different privacy culture at Facebook.

"I can't help but wonder how all the 'privacy advocates' that Facebook has been hiring lately are going to feel about working with a LITERAL AUTHOR OF THE PATRIOT ACT as their general counsel," Greer tweeted.

Writer Jonah Blank put the hire in perspective, implying that Newstead's addition to the Facebook team was not the best move.

"How has #Facebook responded to charges that it violates its users' privacy, fuels ethnic/racial/religious tension, and may have helped #Russia interfere with the 2016 US election?" asked Blank.

"By hiring Trump appointee as its general counsel."

"What could go wrong?" producer Evan Shapiro asked sarcastically.

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