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Mark Zuckerberg to Ignore Canadian Parliament's Subpoena, Maybe Get Found in Contempt

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walking south.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walking south.
Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty

The hottest trend sweeping Washington right now has officially arrived in Silicon Valley: Defying lawmakers’ subpoenas is all the rage and Facebook apparently has no plans to be left out.

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The Canadian Parliament’s ethics committee voted earlier this month to subpoena Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, requesting that the pair appear as witnesses for a hearing in Ottawa slated to include several other top tech bosses—Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai among them.

On Monday, however, Facebook told CNN that neither executive will be making the trip. The company will send sacrificial lamb Kevin Chan, Facebook’s head of public policy, to appear in their stead.

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The announcement has led some Canadian MPs to suggest that Sandberg and Zuckerberg could be found in contempt of parliament—a rod that, as the CBC reports, is seldom wielded by the body of legislators. A contempt finding would require the ethics committee to approve a motion recommending the charge before a vote before the full house of commons to approve it. (Notably, the committee’s vote to approve the subpoenas was unanimous.)

“I don’t think it would send a good message internationally about, you know, blowing off an entire country of 36 million people,” the commons committee’s chair, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, told CBC.

Canadian lawmakers ultimately have no real authority to summon individuals outside the country, so the subpoena itself was more or less symbolic. The same could be said of any vote finding the executives obstructed official proceedings. Nevertheless, a finding of contempt would compound Facebook’s reputation for avoidance in regard to its numerous privacy-related controversies.

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Notably, Zuckerberg also refused to appear at the last joint-parliamentary hearing held by the United Kingdom and Canada, which likewise concerned Facebook’s data-privacy malfeasance and the virality of disinformation across the platform.

Canada’s privacy czar, Daniel Therrien, announced plans last month to file suit against Facebook after his office determined the company had violated the country’s laws governing user consent over personal information.

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While the bulk of the Facebook data involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal belonged to United States users, more than 600,000 Canadians were also affected.

In April, Therrien indicated that Facebook had not been fully cooperative. “Facebook’s refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive information people have entrusted to this company,” he told the Associated Press.

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“The company’s privacy framework,” he said, “was empty.”

Senior Reporter, Privacy & Security

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DISCUSSION

ChrisMacKechnie
Chris MacKechnie

If countries start issuing such orders, it would effectively act as a travel sanction for Facebook execs. Ie. If Zuck or Sanberg were to travel to those countries, they’d be arrested and imprisoned. As a Commonwealth country, I could see a scenario where they’d be shut out of the UK, Australia, New Zealand and most of the Caribbean. I realize it sounds preposterous, but I don't know if Americans understand how the Commonwealth works.