An influential senator thinks Mark Zuckerberg should be 'held personally accountable' for Facebook's privacy problems, including 'the possibility of a prison term'

Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty ImagesFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives could face prosecution if they misled customers about their privacy policies under a proposed bill.
  • In a recent interview, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said FacebookCEO Mark Zuckerberg should be prosecuted for allegedly lying to customers about his company’s privacy practices.
  • Wyden’s spokesman clarified that the senator doesn’t think Zuckerberg could be prosecuted under current law.
  • Instead, the senator has informally proposed a bill that would allow prosecutors to go after corporate executives, such as Zuckerberg, when their companies mislead customers about what the companies are doing with customers’ private data.
  • Wyden has long been a champion of the internet and the tech industry, making his anti-Zuckerberg comments all the more stark.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Democratic senator who helped created the rules for the commercial internet thinks Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ought to face fines and possible jail time for misleading customers about what his company was doing with their private data.

Under federal law, corporate executives can be prosecuted if their companies misstate their financial reports, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden noted in a recent interview with Willamette Week. Zuckerberg and other executives ought to be similarly liable if their companies mislead users about the companies’ privacy policies, he said.

“Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly lied to the American people about privacy,” Wyden told Willamette Week. “I think he ought to be held personally accountable, which is everything from financial fines to – and let me underline this – the possibility of a prison term. Because he hurt a lot of people.”

Wyden wasn’t suggesting that Zuckerberg could be prosecuted under current US law, his spokesman, Keith Chu, told Business Insider. Instead, the senator last fall informally proposed a new law that would make such prosecutions possible.

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Wyden has a bill for that

Wyden’s draft bill, dubbed the Consumer Data Protection Act, would require companies that have at least $US1 billion in revenue and hold personal data of at least 1 million customers, or ones that have data on at least 50 million customers, to put in place measures to protect that data. It would also require those companies to annually report on whether it complied with those protection requirements.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) speaks ahead of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifying before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill on February 14, 2018 in Washington, DC. Mnuchin addressed President Trump's FY 2019 Budget plan.Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty ImagesOregon Sen. Ron Wyden thinks Zuckerberg should face prosecution for allegedly lying to customers.

The bill would further mandate that corporate officers, including CEOs, attest that the reports meet government requirements. Officers who signed off on the reports knowing they were incomplete or untrue could face fines of at least $US1 million and jail time of up to 20 years.

That latter provision is similar to one in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. That law requires CEOs and chief financial officers to attest to the accuracy of their companies financial statements. Those officers can be held criminally liable if the statements are misleading or inaccurate – though that provision has rarely, if ever, been enforced.

Despite his rhetoric against Zuckerberg, Wyden has long been one of champions of the internet and the tech industry. In the late 1990s, Wyden helped spearhead federal legislation that shaped the development of the Internet.

He and then-Rep. Chris Cox sponsored the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which forbade taxes that specifically targeted internet-only activities, such as online access or the transfer of data. He and Cox also sponsored Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protect internet companies from being held liable for the information that their users publish.

However, he has increasingly expressed scepticism and concern about Facebook’s data-collection and privacy practices. Those practices have come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Got a tip about Facebook or another tech company? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected], message him on Twitter @troywolv, or send him a secure message through Signal at 415.515.5594. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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