Canada Lawmakers Demand Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Sandberg Testify

(Bloomberg) -- Politicians in Ottawa want to question Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg after a watchdog found Facebook Inc. violated Canadian privacy law -- but it’s unclear if they’ll ever get the chance.

Canada’s Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics issued the summons Tuesday, according to minutes published after the closed-door session. The demand comes ahead of a May 28 meeting, to be hosted in Canada, of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and ‘Fake News.’

The social media giant says it will be “appropriately represented” at that meeting. However, the U.S. firm is staying silent about whether the top executives themselves will comply with a summons to testify.

In a report last month, Canadian privacy watchdog Daniel Therrien said Facebook committed “serious contraventions” of the country’s privacy laws -- and alleged the company had flatly declined to accept the findings. That angered Canadian lawmakers, who accused Facebook of thumbing its nose at Parliament.

Canada Lawmakers Demand Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Sandberg Testify

“This is a highly unusual step to take but Facebook’s disregard for the rights of Canadian citizens and the recent finding of the Privacy Commissioner that Facebook broke Canadian law has necessitated our decision,” lawmaker Charlie Angus, who put forward the motion to summon the executives, said by email Wednesday. “We will see if they are willing to respect the Parliament of Canada and the presence of legislators from around the world.”

Ethics Committee Chairman Bob Zimmer said notices of the summons were sent to Facebook’s representatives. If Facebook ignores them, Canada’s parliament could vote on whether to hold them in contempt, he said.

“We’ve been sitting listening to testimony for almost two years, first of all, about how their platform is used as a weapon” in conflict zones and “how much it’s been impactful to democracy shifts around the world as well,” Zimmer said in an interview. “All we’ve seen is a lack of action, or very limited action, to fix that problem.”

Facebook has preached a focus on privacy recently, which has politicians calling on them to show up to the committee and prove it. Lawmakers say Zuckerberg declined an earlier invitation to appear before the multi-nation committee.

“Since that time he’s sort of done a mea culpa, said I care about privacy, Facebook cares about privacy,” said Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, another lawmaker on the committee. “The first opportunity he had to take it seriously, he declines an invitation from the parliaments and his company refuses to cooperate with our privacy commissioner.”

The issue has wide support among Canadian lawmakers. Zimmer, Angus and Erskine-Smith all hail from different political parties.

In a statement Thursday, a Facebook spokeswoman said the company would work with lawmakers to make sure it’s represented, but didn’t say who would go.

“Over the last year, we have participated in numerous meetings and hearings with government bodies around the world,” the Menlo Park, California-based company said. “We will work with the Committee to ensure Facebook is appropriately represented at the May 28 meeting.”

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