Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Sometimes I feel like, somebody's watching me.

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

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

"What could go wrong?"

Eoin Higgins

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. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Abortion Bans Kill People': Death of Woman Unleashes Protests in Poland

"The politicized tribunal has caused hell for women in Poland that must end as soon as possible—before another one of us dies."

Jessica Corbett ·


Clyburn Asks: Who Would Oppose Means-Testing Child Tax Credit? Answer: Lots of People

"There is literally not a single thing that the means-tested approach is better at than the universal approach," said one policy expert.

Jake Johnson ·


'Time to Rebuild This Nation': Fetterman Speaks Out After Pittsburgh Bridge Collapse

"This collapse is just the latest in a long line of preventable, man-made disasters that prove what so many of us in Pennsylvania and around the country have been saying for years: Our infrastructure is failing our people."

Brett Wilkins ·


California Progressives Warn Dems Against No Vote on Single-Payer

"This shouldn't be controversial," the state progressive caucus said. "When you vote against the state party platform and bills we have endorsed we will simply vote to not endorse you."

Andrea Germanos ·


Lavrov Says 'There Will Be No War' Over Ukraine Unless US Escalates

"If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war," said the Russian foreign minister. "We don't want wars."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo