Why it matters: Facebook's new general counsel is Jennifer Newstead, a former State Dept. legal advisor who helped frame the controversial Patriot Act. She will likely be the one who makes decisions regarding whether to accept or reject government requests for user data. Although given her past, she seems less likely to zealously protect user privacy.
Facebook has announced that it's hiring Jennifer Newstead, a former State Department lawyer, to serve as its new general counsel. She's currently a Trump appointee as Legal Adviser to the Department of State. Unfortunately for privacy and civil liberties advocates, Newstead also helped craft the controversial Patriot Act (officially the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) in 2001.
This is a particularly ironic hire for Facebook because it (and other big tech firms) often have to comply with the national security letters associated with the Patriot Act. These letters give intelligence agencies authority to request data without going through the court system due to national security threats.
The Patriot Act itself was passed after 9/11 when terrorism fears were at an all-time high. It expanded the scope of the federal government's surveillance powers including the bulk collection of telephone records by the NSA. The Justice Department itself credits Newstead for her work on crafting the legislation, promoting her to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.
“Jennifer is a seasoned leader whose global perspective and experience will help us fulfill our mission,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer. “We are also truly grateful to Colin for his dedicated leadership and wise counsel over the past nine years. He has played a crucial role in some of our most important projects and has created a strong foundation for Jennifer to build upon.”
Regarding her duties at Facebook, she will likely spearhead Facebook's legal troubles at home and abroad as the company continues to wrestle with its ongoing privacy battles. Given her history, she may not be as sympathetic to privacy as one might hope. In fact, given how government requests for data has increased significantly, she will be more likely to accept those requests rather than fight them.
Newstead is replacing Colin Stretch who announced his departure last year although he is staying for now to aid the transition.