Former Facebook lawyer calls latest NSA revelations “shocking”

October 30, 2013

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 30—Facebook’s former top lawyer and chief privacy officer said he found “shocking” the scale of online data collection being conducted by the National Security Agency based on new Washington Post revelations that the agency secretly tapped the main communications links into Yahoo and Google data centers.

“It’s not shocking that the government or law enforcement is doing some monitoring but the scale that we’re seeing it today is pretty shocking,” Chris Kelly said Wednesday during a panel discussion on data breaches at the Association of Corporate Counsel conference here.

Kelly was Facebook’s first general counsel and chief privacy officer, from 2005 to 2009. He is now an investor in big data companies and part-owner of the Sacramento Kings.

He said that before he joined Facebook, the company—which at the time he joined had only 2.5 million users—had only a rudimentary privacy policy.

“When I got there, one issue we addressed was that we would get requests from the government for data,” he said. “There are situations where the government has legitimate reasons to request data, for terrorism investigations, but that has to be a very transparent process, as transparent as you can make it.”

Kelly said he has followed with interest the unfolding details about the government’s online surveillance efforts, triggered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s decision to release details about the agency’s secret PRISM collection effort. PRISM gave the agency front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process; the latest reports revealed it secretly intercepted data through a separate program as well.

“The possibility that the NSA has been intercepting traffic outside Google and Yahoo data centers, that’s an incredibly serious discussion we need more facts on first,” Kelly said. “Having seen the supposed facts on PRISM turn out to be not what they were presented as in the first few [news] stories, I’m going to reserve judgment...but it’s a very interesting piece in the Washington Post today.”

Kelly said the Snowden leak is “a great opportunity for a conversation about the fact that there are spy agencies and law enforcement collecting data out there.”

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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