Facebook has picked up another government official—this time a legal adviser to Donald Trump’s State Department who once helped craft the much-maligned Patriot Act—to beef up its team, Bloomberg reported on Monday.
According to that report, Facebook’s new general counsel Jennifer Newstead has worked at the State Department since 2017, when she came from law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell LLP. She’s also held other roles “at the Department of Justice, Office of Management and Budget, and the White House” at various points of her career, Bloomberg wrote, while her bio also makes mention of a stint as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
“I’m excited to be joining Facebook at an important time and working with such a fantastic team,” Newstead said in a Facebook press release. “Facebook’s products play an important role in societies around the world. 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.”
According to Politico, Newstead will “likely represent the company in Washington as her predecessor has repeatedly done.” But the hire of a State Department official also reflects that Facebook has increasingly come under fire overseas, where it and its subsidiaries like WhatsApp have regularly been accused of enabling incitement and violence. (Riots in India and Sri Lanka, as well as a genocide in Myanmar, have all been linked to the spread of misinformation and propaganda on Facebook and/or its properties, as have election interference efforts in multiple countries including the U.S.)
As the Verge noted, Newstead’s role as chief lawyer will also see her oversee the company’s handling of “national security letters” (NSLs), informal intelligence agency requests for information without specific court authorization. The Patriot Act act greatly increased the number of NSLs that are filed. She will also oversee the handling of tens of thousands of other requests for Facebook data from law enforcement:
Facebook is still actively dealing with these data demands, which have only escalated since NSA collection activities became public. Facebook received more than 32,000 requests for data from US law enforcement in the second half of 2018, and content from more than 20,000 accounts was requested by the FISA court over the same period. Little is known about the details of those requests, which are often subject to strict gag orders.
As one of the authors of the Patriot Act—George W. Bush administration lawyer John Yoo described her in a 2006 book as the “day-to-day manager of the Patriot Act in Congress,” according to BuzzFeed News—Newstead may be more amenable to government requests for user data.
Facebook’s new chief lawyer will presumably also come in handy if push comes to shove and legislators in DC actually start pushing proposals to regulate large internet platforms. That’s become a hot-button issue amid the company’s seemingly never-ending stream of privacy scandals and accusations of monopolistic behavior, to the point where CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly made suggestions about what those regulations should look like and Silicon Valley firms including Facebook have amped up their lobbying efforts.
The Verge also noted Newstead will “work closely with Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s head of global policy.” Kaplan, another former George W. Bush administration alumnus, has popped up in the news with such fun items as throwing a party for recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (while allegations the nominee had committed sexual assault remained at the top of the national news cycle). Kaplan was also the focus of a Wall Street Journal profile last year that claimed his influence at the company was growing, and he regularly used it to steer decision-making in directions favorable to conservatives.