Leahy: 'Congress Should Demand Accountability' When It Comes To Digital Privacy

Apr 9, 2018

Sen. Patrick Leahy says Congress should demand that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg give a full accounting about why the company allowed a political consulting firm to obtain profiles of more than 87 million of its users during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Zuckerberg will testify on Tuesday afternoon in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy, the senior Democrat on that panel, has taken a lead role on this issue because he says he feels personally "betrayed" by Facebook's actions.

VPR will carry NPR's special coverage of Zuckerberg's testimony on Tuesday, April 10 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Leahy is also the sponsor of legislation that protects the digital privacy rights of all Americans. It's a bill that's attracting a lot more attention in light of the Facebook controversy.

"We have to first have the hearings to know exactly what's happened and how we protect people's privacy,” said Leahy. “The Congress should demand accountability. It hasn't done that enough yet, and I think it's going to have to — and I think it will."  

"We have to first have the hearings to know exactly what's happened and how we protect people's privacy." — Sen. Patrick Leahy

Leahy says the Facebook data breach represents a serious challenge to the country's political future.

"If you combine the ability to do this with a country like Russia that's trying to influence our elections, you've got a major national security issue,” Leahy said recently.  

More from VPR — Leahy Says Facebook Data Breach Is A Major National Security Issue [March 26]

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg will testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Peter Welch is a member of that panel, and Welch says he plans to ask Zuckerberg how Facebook ever allowed this data breach to take place.

"Why were they asleep at the switch when Russia was using that platform? And if you recall, Zuckerberg largely dismissed the concerns that were being raised before the election about that — and he was dead wrong,” said Welch.  

"We've got to have a structure where there's regulations that protect the privacy rights of users of the Facebook platform." — Rep. Peter Welch

And Welch also wants Congress to support digital privacy legislation.

“What are we gonna do about protecting the privacy of users? And we're way behind on that," said Welch. "And we've got to have a structure where there's regulations that protect the privacy rights of users of the Facebook platform."

Welch says Facebook "clearly failed to protect the privacy of its customers" and that additional government oversight may be needed in the future.