Facebook Fights U.S. Pressure Over WikiLeaks

Facebook is trying to develop a consistent set of policies to protect users' privacy against pressure from the U.S. government to release data associated with WikiLeaks.

Facebook’s fight against government pressure to cut ties with WikiLeaks and release the personal data of those users might seem to contradict how the social network operates with respect to third-party developers, although neither happens without permission.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes told InfoWorld that the social network is “required to regularly push back against over-broad requests for user records. … in most cases we are able to convince the party issuing legal process to withdraw the overbroad request, but if they do not we fight the matter in court” and have a history of success in those cases.

This is exactly the kind of responsible approach Daniel Ellsberg urged a room of Silicon Valley executives to take at a Churchill Club event in Santa Clara, Calif., last Wednesday. Ellsberg, the man who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers – – a top secret study about the U.S. government’s role in the Vietnam war — said companies that store our personal data have the “responsibility” to push back against the government’s pressure to release said information.

As you probably know by now, the U.S. government has been eager to shut down WikiLeaks and has in turn put pressure on private companies such as Visa, Mastercard, Amazon, and Facebook to cut ties with the controversial website, although the social network didn’t cave in like the others.

“People in this audience have the ability to decide that they are ready to take a risk in their lives to fight to preserve democracy in this country and to preserve us from total transparency to our executive branch,” Ellsberg said at the event in Santa Clara.

Facebook wouldn’t comment on how many of these third-party requests it has received concerning the release of personal data, but admitted that the number has been growing. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which recently collected copies of policy guidelines from 13 online companies – – including Facebook – – said that the social network has struggled to maintain a coherent, consistent set of policies to determine how and when to release personal data to third parties, including the government. In fact, according to the EFF, the social network’s 2010 guidelines are too vague and harm the company’s transparency.

Do you think Facebook has been proactive about protecting consumer privacy, or inconsistent?