In the News
Ahead of hearings, Rep. Peters says Facebook needs to prove it can keep private information secure, or Congress should step in
April 9, 2018
By Joshua Stewart
- Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg needs to prove that his company can keep user’s private information secure.
- Zuckerberg goes before the House Commerce and Energy Committee on Wednesday. Peters has been a member of that group since January 2017.
- Facebook is under fire after a political research firm harvested user data and for its response to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Ahead of Congressional hearings with Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Rep. Scott Peters, a member of one of the committees that will question the social media tycoon, said that Zuckerberg needs to prove it can keep user’s information private or that Congress will be obligated pass legislation that provides protections.
“They can come up with a solution to this which is technically sound and is fair to people and their privacy or the government has to step in, which would be a shame,” Peters said by phone on Monday.
Zuckerberg is making appearances on Capitol Hill this week as his company navigates through two two scandals. In one case it was reported that a political research firm that touted its abilities to sway public opinion harvested information about Facebook users. In the other the company is under fire for its slow response to address interference by Russian operatives in 2016.
Ahead of this week’s hearings, Zuckerberg has met with lawmakers and done news interviews in which he apologized for how Facebook handled these two problems.
This week he’ll appear as a witness in two congressional hearings, including one joint hearing on Tuesday before Senate committees and another on Wednesday before the House Committee on Commerce and Energy. Peters, D-San Diego, has been a member of the latter committee since January 2017.
“I am very concerned about this breach of privacy and it’s unacceptable,” Peters said. “And it's not the first time that this company has done something like this without going on an apology tour without showing that their values are to protect their customers.”
In prepared testimony posted by the House committee on Monday morning ahead of the hearing, Zuckerberg took blame for lapses that allowed political research firm Cambridge Analytica to gain access to information about millions of Facebook users as well his company’s slow response to Russia’s use of Facebook and Instagram to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
He also detailed measures taken to limit how and what types of information third parties can collect about Facebook users and increased digital security and policing of rogue users to cut down on interference on elections.
Zuckerberg also credited his social media platforms for facilitating countless positive interactions between users, but also acknowledged that his company needs to do more.
“It’s now clear that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” his pre-released testimony says. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry.”
Peters said he hasn’t had the chance to review Zuckerberg’s prepared remarks but said it would be most prudent to wait until after this week’s hearings before suggesting any legislation.
“It’s perfectly legitimate fo the federal government to look out for consumer protection, we do it all the time for food safety to consumer fraud,” he said.
Banks are obligated to keep track of potentially criminal activity, so it’s not unreasonable for Facebook and other social media platforms to have similar obligations, Peters said.
Federal law, he said, hasn’t kept pace with the still-emerging technology, he said.
“There’s not a lot of regulation, and I think, generally, that’s good. We don’t want government to step in and interfere with innovation,” Peters said. “On the other hand when you have a situation where people are taken advantage of for private gain… the government has an interest to make sure we get this right.”
Peters said that this will be the committee’s first hearing related to social media since he became a member, and noted that it’s unusual for the full membership rather than a small subcommittee to convene.