Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘Privacy’

Without encryption, we will lose all privacy. This is our new battleground

Posted by M. C. on October 16, 2019

The US, UK and Australia are taking on Facebook in a bid to undermine the only method that protects our personal information

Edward Snowden is a US surveillance whistleblower

In every country of the world, the security of computers keeps the lights on, the shelves stocked, the dams closed, and transportation running. For more than half a decade, the vulnerability of our computers and computer networks has been ranked the number one risk in the US Intelligence Community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment – that’s higher than terrorism, higher than war. Your bank balance, the local hospital’s equipment, and the 2020 US presidential election, among many, many other things, all depend on computer safety.

And yet, in the midst of the greatest computer security crisis in history, the US government, along with the governments of the UK and Australia, is attempting to undermine the only method that currently exists for reliably protecting the world’s information: encryption. Should they succeed in their quest to undermine encryption, our public infrastructure and private lives will be rendered permanently unsafe.

In the simplest terms, encryption is a method of protecting information, the primary way to keep digital communications safe. Every email you write, every keyword you type into a search box – every embarrassing thing you do online – is transmitted across an increasingly hostile internet. Earlier this month the US, alongside the UK and Australia, called on Facebook to create a “backdoor”, or fatal flaw, into its encrypted messaging apps, which would allow anyone with the key to that backdoor unlimited access to private communications. So far, Facebook has resisted this.

If internet traffic is unencrypted, any government, company, or criminal that happens to notice it can – and, in fact, does – steal a copy of it, secretly recording your information for ever. If, however, you encrypt this traffic, your information cannot be read: only those who have a special decryption key can unlock it.

I know a little about this, because for a time I operated part of the US National Security Agency’s global system of mass surveillance. In June 2013 I worked with journalists to reveal that system to a scandalised world. Without encryption I could not have written the story of how it all happened – my book Permanent Record – and got the manuscript safely across borders that I myself can’t cross. More importantly, encryption helps everyone from reporters, dissidents, activists, NGO workers and whistleblowers, to doctors, lawyers and politicians, to do their work – not just in the world’s most dangerous and repressive countries, but in every single country.

When I came forward in 2013, the US government wasn’t just passively surveilling internet traffic as it crossed the network, but had also found ways to co-opt and, at times, infiltrate the internal networks of major American tech companies. At the time, only a small fraction of web traffic was encrypted: six years later, Facebook, Google and Apple have made encryption-by-default a central part of their products, with the result that today close to 80% of web traffic is encrypted. Even the former director of US national intelligence, James Clapper, credits the revelation of mass surveillance with significantly advancing the commercial adoption of encryption. The internet is more secure as a result. Too secure, in the opinion of some governments.

Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, who authorised one of the earliest mass surveillance programmes without reviewing whether it was legal, is now signalling an intention to halt – or even roll back – the progress of the last six years. WhatsApp, the messaging service owned by Facebook, already uses end-to-end encryption (E2EE): in March the company announced its intention to incorporate E2EE into its other messaging apps – Facebook Messenger and Instagram – as well. Now Barr is launching a public campaign to prevent Facebook from climbing this next rung on the ladder of digital security. This began with an open letter co-signed by Barr, UK home secretary Priti Patel, Australia’s minister for home affairs and the US secretary of homeland security, demanding Facebook abandon its encryption proposals.

If Barr’s campaign is successful, the communications of billions will remain frozen in a state of permanent insecurity: users will be vulnerable by design. And those communications will be vulnerable not only to investigators in the US, UK and Australia, but also to the intelligence agencies of China, Russia and Saudi Arabia – not to mention hackers around the world.

End-to-end encrypted communication systems are designed so that messages can be read only by the sender and their intended recipients, even if the encrypted – meaning locked – messages themselves are stored by an untrusted third party, for example, a social media company such as Facebook.

The central improvement E2EE provides over older security systems is in ensuring the keys that unlock any given message are only ever stored on the specific devices at the end-points of a communication – for example the phones of the sender or receiver of the message – rather than the middlemen who own the various internet platforms enabling it. Since E2EE keys aren’t held by these intermediary service providers, they can no longer be stolen in the event of the massive corporate data breaches that are so common today, providing an essential security benefit. In short, E2EE enables companies such as Facebook, Google or Apple to protect their users from their scrutiny: by ensuring they no longer hold the keys to our most private conversations, these corporations become less of an all-seeing eye than a blindfolded courier.

It is striking that when a company as potentially dangerous as Facebook appears to be at least publicly willing to implement technology that makes users safer by limiting its own power, it is the US government that cries foul. This is because the government would suddenly become less able to treat Facebook as a convenient trove of private lives.

To justify its opposition to encryption, the US government has, as is traditional, invoked the spectre of the web’s darkest forces. Without total access to the complete history of every person’s activity on Facebook, the government claims it would be unable to investigate terrorists, drug dealers money launderers and the perpetrators of child abuse – bad actors who, in reality, prefer not to plan their crimes on public platforms, especially not on US-based ones that employ some of the most sophisticated automatic filters and reporting methods available.

The true explanation for why the US, UK and Australian governments want to do away with end-to-end encryption is less about public safety than it is about power: E2EE gives control to individuals and the devices they use to send, receive and encrypt communications, not to the companies and carriers that route them. This, then, would require government surveillance to become more targeted and methodical, rather than indiscriminate and universal.

What this shift jeopardises is strictly nations’ ability to spy on populations at mass scale, at least in a manner that requires little more than paperwork. By limiting the amount of personal records and intensely private communications held by companies, governments are returning to classic methods of investigation that are both effective and rights-respecting, in lieu of total surveillance. In this outcome we remain not only safe, but free.

Edward Snowden is former CIA officer and whistleblower, and author of Permanent Record. He is president of the board of directors of the Freedom of the Press Foundation

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Did Granny hear a CLICK?


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Probable Cause: I Should Have No Privacy? – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on October 11, 2019

A society can get rid of all sorts of crimes, misdemeanors, and unwanted behavior. A way of doing this is introducing total surveillance. There may be some issues with capacity and corruption among the watchmen, but in theory it is at least possible. The concept of pre-crime of Minority Report comes to mind. Do we really want such a society?


Thirteen is an unlucky number, some say. I was making my way for my twelfth visit, also counting one overnight transit, to the United States.

It’s the type of story you always hope never turns out to be about yourself. In July, I was on my way to the twelfth FreedomFest in Las Vegas, and yes, it is by a coincidence also my twelfth visit to the American union; all my visits to the U.S. have not been FreedomFest occasions.

Perhaps 12 is my unlucky number?

What Happened?

I flew in to Detroit Metropolitan Airport with my international flight. I had heard stories about seizures and searches of electronic devices. That was why I had planned not to bring my ordinary laptop, only a reserve/backup device.

I came to the immigration checkpoint. The standard procedure with questioning started. I answered the questions as best I could. I told the officer my purpose was a conference, and upon followup I said it was the FreedomFest in Las Vegas. Apparently, the officer was so interested in the conference she googled it.

I don’t know what the reason for it was. Was it one of my answers that provoked them? Was it the fact that I was a single male traveler? Was it my information about going to a conference? I don’t know. No matter the cause, I was taken to a room for extended interview/interrogation.

There were several subjects of extended checks in this room.

I was ordered early on to get my checked bag.

They turned the pages of my physical papers.

I don’t know what it was that triggered it. Could it have been my misunderstanding of a question, interpreted by the officer as ill intent? Could I have hesitated for a few seconds too long in answering a question, interpreted by the officer as my having something to hide? Was it that I didn’t have any conference, hotel, or return flight documentation on me? Was it that I was claiming to go to a (suspect) freedom conference?

No matter the cause, I was requested/ordered to put my cell phone on and in flight mode and to enter the password.

They were two officers now. I was given an informational form about seizures of electronic devices. I could observe that an officer was scanning my cell phone with another cell phone. When the officer did so, she had opened my text messages. Parts of my text message threads were being scanned.

The officer searching my phone finished her search of my phone by telling the other officer she didn’t find anything.

When I was let go from the intrusive questioning and searching, I asked about the photographing of my phone. I was told it was just translating. When checking my phone later on, several apps I never use had apparently been opened.

Later, when I got home I filed a complaint/inquiry. To be exact, this was on July 31. Specifically, in this inquiry, I asked for the specific reason for my phone search. Normal processing time is stated to be 10-15 working days. While high season may cause processing time to be longer, I still haven’t heard anything, and more than 3-4 times that stated normal processing time has now passed.

One of the the immigration officers nagged about the place I was staying, which I had given exact details of both in my ESTA application and when filling out information via the airline. Apparently, it was a problem that I didn’t remember the street number exactly – or was unsure about the zip code. He had also been nagging about my return flight, which was just a week later. Checking my passport, I had been granted entry for 90 days.

What Can Be Said About It?

Several travelers, also known as entry candidates, were in the same room at the same time. In the case they claim these extended checks are between the officers and the traveler, this is certainly not so…

A society can get rid of all sorts of crimes, misdemeanors, and unwanted behavior. A way of doing this is introducing total surveillance. There may be some issues with capacity and corruption among the watchmen, but in theory it is at least possible. The concept of pre-crime of Minority Report comes to mind. Do we really want such a society?

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Your Alternative to Facial Recognition



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What’s the Big Problem With Facial Recognition? | | Tenth Amendment Center Blog

Posted by M. C. on October 4, 2019


The Oakland City Council recently gave final approval to an ordinance banning facial recognition in that city. This is part of a broader movement at the state and local level to ban outright or at least limit this invasive surveillance technology.

So, what’s the big problem with facial recognition?


In the first place, it’s just not very accurate, especially when reading African American and other minority facial features. It gets it wrong a lot of the time.

This isn’t just theoretical musing. During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.

But as ACLU attorney Matt Cagle said, this isn’t a problem that can be fixed by tweaking an algorithm. There are more fundamental issues with facial recognition. Government use of facial recognition technology for identifying and tracking people en masse flies in the face of both the Fourth Amendment and constitutional provisions protecting privacy in every state constitution.

Berkeley, California, City Councilmember Kate Harrison is pushing for a facial recognition ban in her city. In her recommendation of the ordinance, she pointed out the inherent constitutional problem with facial recognition.

It eliminates the human and judicial element behind the existing warrant system by which governments must prove that planned surveillance is both constitutional and sufficiently narrow to protect targets’ and bystanders’ fundamental rights to privacy while also simultaneously providing the government with the ability to exercise its duties.

Facial recognition technology automates the search, seizure and analysis process that was heretofore pursued on a narrow basis through stringent constitutionally-established and human-centered oversight in the judiciary branch. Due to the inherent dragnet nature of facial recognition technology, governments cannot reasonably support by oath or affirmation the particular persons or things to be seized. The programmatic automation of surveillance fundamentally undermines the community’s liberty.

Facial recognition puts every person who crosses its path into a perpetual lineup without any probable cause. It tramples restrictions on government power intended to protect our right to privacy. It feeds into the broader federal surveillance state. And at its core, it does indeed fundamentally undermine liberty.

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Edward Snowden On Trump, Privacy, and Threats to Democracy: One Hour Interview on MSNBC – Blog

Posted by M. C. on September 25, 2019

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Facial recognition: ten reasons you should be worried about the technology

Posted by M. C. on August 30, 2019

With so many concerns about facial recognition technology, we desperately need a more prominent conversation on its impact on our rights and civil liberties. Without proper regulation of these systems, we risk creating dystopian police states in what were once free, democratic countries.

dystopian police states”  We are already beyond the “risk” stage.

The Conversation

1) It puts us on a path towards automated blanket surveillance

2) It operates without a clear legal or regulatory framework

3) It violates the principles of necessity and proportionality…

4) It violates our right to privacy…

5) It has a chilling effect on our democratic political culture…

6) It denies citizens the opportunity for consent…

7) It is often inaccurate…

8) It can lead to automation bias…

9) It implies there are secret government watchlistsNothing “implicit” there-MCViewPoint)

10) It can be used to target already vulnerable groups

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Face-Recognition Using OpenCV: A step-by-step guide to ...

You are than just a number. You are lots of numbers.


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The Death of Privacy: Government Fearmongers to Read Your Mail — Strategic Culture

Posted by M. C. on July 12, 2019

The policemen then informed the family that they were there over failure to pay the gas bill. Animal rights groups report that the shooting of pets by police has become routine in many jurisdictions because the officers claim that they feel threatened.

As usual, a disconnected and tone-deaf government’s perceived need “to keep you safe” will result in a loss of fundamental liberty that, once it is gone, will never be recovered.

Philip Giraldi


It is discouraging to note just how the United States has been taking on the attributes of a police state since 9/11. Stories of police raids on people’s homes gone wrong are frequently in the news. In one recent incident, a heavily armed SWAT team was sent to a St. Louis county home. The armed officers entered the building without knocking, shot the family dog and forced the family members to kneel on the floor where they were able to watch their pet struggle and then die. The policemen then informed the family that they were there over failure to pay the gas bill. Animal rights groups report that the shooting of pets by police has become routine in many jurisdictions because the officers claim that they feel threatened.

Indeed, any encounter with any police at any level has now become dangerous. Once upon a time it was possible to argue with an officer over the justification for a traffic ticket, but that is no longer the case. You have to sit with your hands clearly visible on the steering wheel while answering “Yes sir!” to anything the cop says. There have been numerous incidents where the uncooperative driver is ordered to get out of the car and winds up being tasered or shot.

Courts consistently side with police officers and with the government when individual rights are violated while the Constitution of the United States itself has even been publicly described by the president as “archaic” and “a bad thing for the country.” The National Security Agency (NSA) routinely and illegally collects emails and phone calls made by citizens who have done nothing wrong and the government even denies to Americans the right to travel to countries that it disapproves of, most recently Cuba.

And traveling itself has become an unpleasant experience even before one sits down in the 17 inches of seat-space offered by major airlines, with the gropers of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) acting as judge, jury and executioner for travelers who have become confused by the constantly changing rules about what they can do and carry with them. The TSA is now routinely “examining” the phones and laptops of travelers and even downloading the information on them, all without a warrant or probable cause. And the TSA even has a “little list” that identifies travelers who are uncooperative and flags them for special harassment.

Congress is considering bills that will make criticism of Israel a crime, establishing a precedent that will end freedom of speech, and the impending prosecution and imprisonment of Julian Assange for espionage will be the death of a truly free press. Americans are no longer guaranteed a trial by jury and can be held indefinitely by military tribunals without charges. Under George W. Bush torture and rendition were institutionalized while Barack Obama initiated the practice of executing US citizens overseas by drone if they were deemed to be a “threat.” There was no legal process involved and “kill” lists were updated every Tuesday morning. And perhaps the greatest crimes of all, both Obama and George W. Bush did not hesitate to bomb foreigners, bring about regime change, and start wars illegally in Asia and Africa…

There is apparently little desire in Congress to take up the encryption issue, though the National Security Council, headed by John Bolton, clearly would like to empower government law enforcement and intelligence agencies by banning unbreakable encryption completely. It is, however, possibly something that can be achieved through an Executive Order from the president. If it comes about that way, FBI, CIA and NSA will be pleased and will have easy access to all one’s emails and phone calls. But the price to be paid is that once the security standards are lowered anyone else with minimal technical resources will be able to do the same, be they hackers or criminals. As usual, a disconnected and tone-deaf government’s perceived need “to keep you safe” will result in a loss of fundamental liberty that, once it is gone, will never be recovered.

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Digital privacy, Internet Surveillance and The PRISM ...



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The Govt. Wants to OUTLAW Encrypted Messaging – The Organic Prepper

Posted by M. C. on July 4, 2019

And…you know… maybe what you’re talking about is nobody else’s business…

by Daisy Luther

If you ever use the encrypted messaging options on programs like iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, Wickr, Telegram, or any other service, your time to discuss things privately over the phone may be running out. The US government doesn’t like for anything to get in the way of their ability to spy on investigate even the most mundane of conversations.

Instead of seeing privacy as a right, they see it as suspicious. Your devices are already being searched at quadruple the previous rate in airports. And the attack on free speech is now going as far as our private messages to our friends and family.

Because the only reason we’d want privacy is that we’re criminals

This was the topic of a National Security meeting last week.

The encryption challenge, which the government calls “going dark,” was the focus of a National Security Council meeting Wednesday morning that included the No. 2 officials from several key agencies, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Senior officials debated whether to ask Congress to effectively outlaw end-to-end encryption, which scrambles data so that only its sender and recipient can read it, these people told POLITICO. Tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook have increasingly built end-to-end encryption into their products and software in recent years — billing it as a privacy and security feature but frustrating authorities investigating terrorism, drug trafficking and child pornography. (source)

So, which government agencies are hot to make encrypted messages illegal?

The DOJ and the FBI argue that catching criminals and terrorists should be the top priority, even if watered-down encryption creates hacking risks. The Commerce and State Departments disagree, pointing to the economic, security and diplomatic consequences of mandating encryption “backdoors.”

DHS is internally divided. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency knows the importance of encrypting sensitive data, especially in critical infrastructure operations, but ICE and the Secret Service regularly run into encryption roadblocks during their investigations. (source)

It looks like the simpler answer is the few who understand there are reasonable, non-criminal uses.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons we might want to encrypt our conversations.

Of course, we know there are dozens of reasons we might want to use the encryption function on our favorite messaging apps. For example, when I was recently traveling in Europe, I needed to give my daughter credit card information to pay a bill for me. I used the encryption function on Telegram to send it because who wants that out there floating around?

Indeed, there are many legitimate reasons to use end-to-end encryption.

A ban on end-to-end-encryption would make it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agents to access suspects’ data. But such a measure would also make it easier for hackers and spies to steal Americans’ private data, by creating loopholes in encryption that are designed for the government but accessible to anyone who reverse-engineers them. Watering down encryption would also endanger people who rely on scrambled communications to hide from stalkers and abusive ex-spouses. (source)

And…you know… maybe what you’re talking about is nobody else’s business… Read the rest of this entry »

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Uncle Sam’s Latest Plan to Spy on Air Travelers | The Nestmann Group

Posted by M. C. on May 29, 2019

These days, you can wind up on a watchlist for merely complaining to a TSA agent. Getting on a watchlist doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to board your flight, but it will result in delays at the airport.

By Mark Nestmann

When you arrive at the airport to board a flight, do you have any legitimate “expectation of privacy?” Uncle Sam and the Orwellian Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) would like you to think you don’t.

I beg to differ.

It’s not enough to be poked, prodded, and groped by bored TSA agents as we pass through airport checkpoints. The agency is now telling us – falsely – that we need TSA-compliant identification documents to board our flights.

To make sure those documents properly identify us, the TSA is rolling out face recognition systems at major airports. The goal is to use biometric technology to identify 100% of passengers boarding international flights by 2021.

The airlines are only too happy to cooperate. Delta, JetBlue, British Airways, Lufthansa, and American Airlines are integrating face recognition into their check-in process. Naturally, it’s pitched as a matter of “security” along with “passenger convenience.” In some cases, you needn’t even show your passport or boarding pass to board your flight. You just stare into a camera.

This practice became much better known a couple months ago when a JetBlue passenger who went through this process tweeted: Did I consent to this?

The inconvenience and privacy invasion we suffer when we fly might be more palatable if there were any evidence that it’s effective. But there isn’t any. In 2015, the TSA sent undercover agents to dozens of America’s largest airports to test security protocols. Shockingly, the agents were able to smuggle explosives or weapons through security checkpoints 95% of the time. The TSA failed in 67 out of 70 tests.

Two years later, screeners again failed to detect 95% of explosives and drugs in an undercover test at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Indeed, evidence suggests that the TSA has never intercepted anyone intending to hijack a plane at an airport checkpoint.

This is the system you finance with $7 billion of your tax dollars each year. It’s worse than you ever imagined. It is, in the words of security expert Bruce Schneier, “security theater” at its finest…

For domestic flights, no law or regulation prohibits you from traveling anonymously. When privacy activists filed a Freedom of Information request for the TSA’s records of travelers who show up at an airport checkpoint without ID, they learned that more than 98% of them were able to board their flights. That means the TSA is lying when it posts signs like this one warning passengers that if they want to board a flight after October 1, 2020, using a driver’s license as identification, it must be compliant with the Real ID Act

You can get on a plane without ID only if you print your boarding pass at home and proceed directly to the gate without checked luggage. Once you’re at the gate on a domestic flight, you won’t need to show ID to board the plane – just your boarding pass. If you have checked luggage, though, it’s unlikely that a ticket agent will accept it without ID…

These days, you can wind up on a watchlist for merely complaining to a TSA agent. Getting on a watchlist doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to board your flight, but it will result in delays at the airport…

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snowdenquote-e1464476361819.png (670×335)

Posted by M. C. on May 17, 2019

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Facebook’s Hire of Patriot Act Co-Author Raises Questions on Company’s Commitment to Privacy

Posted by M. C. on April 26, 2019

Facebook’s Hire of Patriot Act Co-Author Raises Questions on Company’s Commitment to Privacy

“What could go wrong?”

Sometimes I feel like, somebody's watching me.

Sometimes I feel like, somebody’s watching me. (Image: Flickr)

Social media giant Facebook made a major hire Monday, bringing on lawyer Jennifer Newstead as the company’s general counsel—a move that generated criticism due to Newstead’s work two decades ago drafting the Patriot Act.

The company announced the hire by citing Newstead’s extensive work in government. Most recently, Newstead acted as the legal adviser for the State Department.

During her time in the Bush administration, Newstead was known for being the “day to day manager of the Patriot Act in Congress,” according to torture memo author John Yoo.

“Jennifer is a seasoned leader whose global perspective and experience will help us fulfill our mission,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in a statement.

Newstead referred to Facebook’s role in the public discourse in a statement released by the company.

“Facebook’s products play an important role in societies around the world,” said Newstead. “I am looking forward to working with the team and outside experts and regulators on a range of legal issues as we seek to uphold our responsibilities and shared values.”

Newstead’s history in government, though, triggered criticism of Facebook for putting her in a position of power—especially in light of recent comments from the company’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that emphasized a more secure and private experience for users.

The Observer, in a report on the hire, took a skeptical view of Newstead’s past as far as it related to tech.

Ironically, the newly minted Facebook chief lawyer has made a career out of helping the government gain access to private citizens’ data in the name of security. Perhaps the most notable of Newstead’s work is helping draft and present Congress with the Patriot Act, a post-9/11 bill that helped the Bush administration utilize Americans’ phone and internet records.

Thus, as technologist Ashkan Soltani pointed out to Politico, the hire of Newstead is incompatible with the company’s public pivot to privacy.

“It’s almost as if we’re living in some bizarro world where the company does exactly the opposite of what Zuckerberg states publicly,” said Soltani.

Fight For the Future deputy director Evan Greer mused about how Newstead’s hiring fits into an ostensibly different privacy culture at Facebook.

“I can’t help but wonder how all the ‘privacy advocates’ that Facebook has been hiring lately are going to feel about working with a LITERAL AUTHOR OF THE PATRIOT ACT as their general counsel,” Greer tweeted.

Writer Jonah Blank put the hire in perspective, implying that Newstead’s addition to the Facebook team was not the best move.

“How has #Facebook responded to charges that it violates its users’ privacy, fuels ethnic/racial/religious tension, and may have helped #Russia interfere with the 2016 US election?” asked Blank.

“By hiring Trump appointee as its general counsel.”

“What could go wrong?” producer Evan Shapiro asked sarcastically.

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