Google is preparing to hire its first government lawyer to represent it on key security and privacy-related matters, according to a person familiar with the hiring plans.
The decision to have a lawyer, Brandon Derby, work on sensitive matters, both within and outside of the company, raises concerns among privacy advocates that Google would gain influence in policy debates without abiding by ethics guidelines. Google, like other large tech companies, says it will abide by the principles of the U.S. government’s Enterprise Privacy Regulation, a self-policing group of technology firms that seeks to balance technology firms’ interest in protecting users’ privacy with the desires of U.S. government officials. The framework advises companies to use “the best technologies available” to carry out their government relationships, while still being considerate of users’ privacy.
The hiring of Derby, whose departure is imminent, is in response to requests from Republican and Democratic federal government officials, along with defense policymakers, said this person, who was not authorized to speak publicly. They believe Google needs a closer legal link with their concerns, especially given recent lawsuits over the company’s reporting of traffic.
A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the hiring.
Among Derby’s primary duties will be preparing lawsuits and defending Google in all issues related to defense and security-related issues. He may also represent the company in cases with social media companies, which have faced scrutiny for their social media monitoring practices. Google has begun balancing competing interest groups, who find social media monitoring is helpful in understanding subversive activity and risks, while also pushing back on what they see as efforts to take control of its user data. In January, it issued a plan of action in response to a public complaint regarding the company’s political ad purchases by groups linked to Russia, which would let Google insert disclaimers into Russian social media ads.
“What these executives may really want is for another key person to sit back and represent them in every federal case,” said Jesselyn Radack, a former Department of Justice official and cyber privacy advocate, who now works as a partner with Caldwell Partners in Washington. “The concern is that Google’s executive team would want its cloud, digital services, search engine, and advertising business enjoyed by everyone equally—although it seems that Google may not want to disappoint its larger government customers.”
Google has competed for billions of dollars worth of contracts to use its cloud computing services with the U.S. government, companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft. It received a $10 billion cloud deal with the State Department late last year.
The company has recently faced scrutiny for its traffic report with police, as well as concerns over how it responded to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. In January, an inspector general’s report noted that Google had been pushing to turn over text and photos from visitors to its YouTube page to the New York Police Department in 2016 to help the NYPD establish a profile of “potential potential attack locations.” Google rejected the request saying that such information should be stored on a user’s device, as required by law.
The company filed a defense against a Justice Department lawsuit for an order forcing Google to hand over YouTube user data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in late 2016. Google responded to court documents saying that it would rather the FBI work with the company to create a content filter that would prevent people from looking up terrorist videos on the platform.