Facebook Hires Privacy Activist, Lawyer Who Helped Write Patriot Act

There’s perhaps no better illustration of Facebook’s uncomfortable relationship with user privacy than two hiring moves the company made this week. First, the social media giant brought on Jennifer Newstead, a State Department official who was partially responsible for the passage of the controversial PATRIOT Act surveillance law. Then, the company turned around and hired Kevin Bankston, the executive director of the Open Technology Institute, to serve as director of privacy policy. (Bankston notably once called the PATRIOT Act a “tremendous blow” to civil liberties.)

On its face, these look like savvy moves for Facebook, which wants to navigate Washington D.C. politics and its many data scandals at the same time. Newstead in particular was careful to remain neutral on her new job.

“Facebook’s products play an important role in societies around the world,” Newstead said in a statement. “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.”

But while Newstead’s hiring may be the smart political play, it also makes Facebook look incredibly tone-deaf. The company has pledged to become more privacy-oriented, but by hiring one of the architects of a notorious privacy-invading law, it’s sending mixed messages — to say the least.

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