NEWS4 March 2019

Facebook leaked memo suggests company targeted lawmakers on data privacy

Europe GDPR News North America Privacy Public Sector Technology UK

US – Facebook sought to pressure politicians to lobby on their behalf against data privacy legislation, according to a report published in the Observer.

Person holding phone with Facebook login screen

Internal documents seen by the newspaper and Computer Weekly suggest the social media company lobbied legislators and regulators in an attempt to influence data privacy laws, including by threatening to withhold investment.

The documents were apparently released as part of a court case in California. 

According to the Observer, Enda Kenny, who was Irish prime minister from 2011 to 2017, is named in the documents among ‘friends of Facebook’ and is claimed to have offered to use ‘significant influence’ in Europe on the company’s behalf.

Ireland’s data protection commissioner acts for all 28 EU member states. The country’s current and former data watchdogs, Helen Dixon and Billy Hawkes, have told the Irish Times that Kenny did not seek to influence the regulation of data protection rules to the benefit of Facebook while he was prime minister.

According to the report in the Observer, the memo also claims that during a meeting with then UK chancellor George Osborne, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg asked him to be ‘even more active and vocal in the European Data Directive debate and really help shape the proposals’.

Osborne told the Observer: “Facebook and other US tech firms, in private, as in public, raised concerns about the proposed European Data Directive … I didn’t follow up on those concerns, or lobby the EU, because I didn’t agree with them.”

A Facebook spokesperson told the paper it could not respond in detail as the documents were still under seal in a Californian court.