Facebook's Hire of Patriot Act Co-Author Raises Questions on Company's Commitment to Privacy

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. 

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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.

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

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