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Meet Facebook's New General Counsel

BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 24:  A visitor holds a paper coffee cup adorned with the Facebook logo at the Facebook Innovation Hub on February 24, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. The Facebook Innovation Hub is a temporary exhibition space where the company is showcasing some of its newest technologies and projects.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 25, 2019 3:00 PM

Jennifer Newstead is the new general counsel at Facebook, but is that a good thing?

Newstead helped write the Patriot Act, which expanded the government's ability to access Americans' records and spy on them. Too many, it seemed like a good idea at the time, because terrorists had attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001. But that was then, and this is now. Facebook has a history of mishandling people's information. Perhaps Newstead can do something about it?

Two-Track Strategy

According to Politico, Facebook has a two-track strategy to deal with government lawmakers and regulators. One: tap insiders to work with the White House and the Senate. Two: hire privacy advocates to handle the data scandals.

Newstead is one of those. She is the legal adviser to the United States Department of State, overseeing work on all domestic and international legal issues affecting U.S. foreign policy. Before joining the State Department, she was a partner at Davis, Polk & Wardell. She had a global practice representing clients in cross-border regulatory, enforcement, and litigation matters. "Newstead brings deep government and private sector experience to the role," Facebook announced.

At the same time, Kevin Bankston joins the company as director of privacy policy. He is a longtime privacy advocate and on the other end of the political spectrum. He once called the Patriot Act "a tremendous blow" to civil liberties.

Awkward Hire?

Other privacy advocates have pointed out the "awkwardness" of Newstead's hiring because of the company's continuing privacy problems. According to reports, the company expects to pay up to $5 billion in regulatory fines over privacy violations dating back to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Business Insider called the fine "a joke" because the company makes that much money in a quarter.

But some see Newstead as a potential savior, someone who can turn the ship around. "She seems to be an adult and these companies need adults," said one tech insider. "If you can steal talent like that to make these companies be adults, that's only a good thing."

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