On Sunday, October third, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen publicly revealed her identification on the CBS tv present 60 Minutes. Previously a member of Facebook’s civic misinformation crew, she previously reported them to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for a spread of regarding enterprise practices, together with mendacity to buyers and amplifying the January sixth Capitol Hill assault by way of Facebook’s platform.
Like all situations of whistleblowing, Ms. Haugen’s actions have a substantial array of authorized implications — not solely for Facebook, however for the know-how sectors and for labor practices normally. Particularly notable is the truth that Ms. Haugen reportedly signed a confidentiality agreement or sometimes call a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Facebook, which can complicate the authorized course of.
What are the Legal Implications of Breaking a Non-Disclosure Settlement?
After secretly copying hundreds of inside paperwork and memos detailing these practices, Ms. Haugen left Facebook in Might, and testified earlier than a Senate subcommittee on October fifth. By revealing info from the paperwork she took, Facebook could take legal action against Ms. Haugen in the event that they accuse her of stealing confidential info from them. Ms. Haugen’s actions elevate questions of the enforceability of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements in the case of submitting whistleblower complaints.
“Paradoxically, Big Tech’s attack on whistleblower-insiders is often aimed at the whistleblower’s disclosure of so-called confidential inside information of the company. Yet, the very concerns expressed by the Facebook whistleblower and others inside Big Tech go to the heart of these same allegations—violations of privacy of the consuming public whose own personal data has been used in a way that puts a target on their backs,” stated Renée Brooker, a partner with Tycko & Zavareei LLP, a legislation agency specializing in representing whistleblowers.
Since Ms. Haugen got here ahead, Facebook stated they will not be retaliating against her for submitting a whistleblower grievance. It’s unclear whether or not protections from authorized motion lengthen to different former workers, as is the case with Ms. Haugen.
“Other employees like Frances Haugen with information about corporate or governmental misconduct should know that they do not have to quit their jobs to be protected. There are over 100 federal laws that protect whistleblowers – each with its own focus on a particular industry, or a particular whistleblower issue,” stated Richard R. Renner of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, PC, a long-time employment lawyer.
In line with the Wall Road Journal, Ms. Haugen’s confidentiality settlement permits her to reveal info to regulators, however to not share proprietary info. A difficult balancing act to navigate.
“Big Tech’s attempt to silence whistleblowers are antithetical to the principles that underlie federal laws and federal whistleblower programs that seek to ferret out illegal activity,” Ms. Brooker stated. “Those reporting laws include federal and state False Claims Acts, and the SEC Whistleblower Program, which typically feature whistleblower rewards and anti-retaliation provisions.”
Legal Implications for Facebook & Whistleblowers
Giant tech organizations like Facebook have an overarching affect on digital info and the way it’s shared with the general public. Whistleblowers like Ms. Haugen expose potential details about how corporations accused of dangerous practices act towards their very own customers, but in addition threat disclosing proprietary enterprise info which can or might not be dangerous to customers.
Some of probably the most important issues Haugen expressed to Congress have been the tip of the iceberg in response to these acquainted with whistleblowing reviews on Massive Tech. Apart from the burden of proof required for such releases to Congress, the threats of employer retaliation and authorized repercussions could stop inside issues from coming to mild.
“Facebook shouldn’t be singled out as a lone actor. Massive Tech must be held accountable and insiders can and needs to be inspired to return ahead and be ready to again up their allegations with laborious proof adequate to permit governments to conduct acceptable investigations,’ Ms. Brooker stated.
As the priority for cybersecurity and knowledge safety continues to carry public curiosity, extra whistleblower disclosures towards Massive Tech and different corporations may maintain them accountable are coming to mild.
Throughout Haugen’s testimony throughout the October 5, 2021 Congressional listening to revealed a potential increasing definition of media regulation versus client censorship. Though these allegations have been the most recent towards a big firm resembling Facebook, extra whistleblowers could proceed to return ahead with comparable accusations, bringing further implications for privateness, employment legislation and whistleblower protections.
“The Facebook whistleblower’s revelations have opened the door just a crack on how Big Tech is exploiting American consumers,” Ms. Brooker stated.