Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed how Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg lobbied the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, over the replacement candidate for the role of Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland.
The Irish Independent reports that Facebook COO Sheryl personally met with Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, where she lobbied on who would be appointed Ireland’s next Data Protection Commissioner. Following the departure of Billy Hawkes as Data Protection Commissioner, Sandberg reportedly had two meetings with Kenny, one in Davos in Switzerland and another in California.
In the documents, Sandberg doesn’t state who she would have replaced Hawkes as Data Protection Commissioner but rather states that she hopes whoever is chosen as his replacement is a “strong candidate” as Mr. Hawkes was a “hard act to follow.” Sandberg reportedly states that she hopes whoever is chosen to fill the role will collaborate with Facebook and provide strong leadership on data protection issues throughout Europe.
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner played a vital role in Facebook’s defense of claims of US spying. The social media company faced up to $3.2 billion in fines if they were found guilty of violating EU citizens’ privacy rights by providing EU user data to members of the NSA (National Security Agency) in the US. Billy Hawkes refused to investigate the claims on legal grounds, defending the company. At the time of Sandberg’s correspondence with Kenny, the case was still being appealed to the Irish High Court.
Facebook also faced tax complications relating to their Irish branch. The IRS in the United States found that Facebook’s Irish operations present a possible $5 billion tax liability, an issue that Sandberg also discussed with Kenny two days after their meeting at Davos. Sandberg reportedly told Kenny that changes to Irish taxation and privacy laws may lead Facebook to consider “different options for future investment and growth in Europe.”
I also want to commend you once again for your leadership during your Presidency of the EU. You made enormous progress. When it came to the European Data Protection Regulation, you and your staff really internalized our concerns and were able to present them in a reasonable way, which has had a positive impact …We hope we can rely on you for your continued leadership on this regulation since we still have more work to do here. Along the same lines, I was pleased to hear that you are so involved in the OECD working group process on tax reform. These discussions will be very complicated and important, and we hope to be helpful to you identifying the implications with different options for future investment and growth in Europe. We are keen to collaborate with your office on this, just as we have on the DPR.
After Sandberg’s meeting with Kenny in Davos, Facebook’s Senior Policy team reportedly requested a meeting with Kenny in government buildings. Kenny did not attend this meeting, instead sending his special advisor Paul O’Brien, the Secretary General to the Government, Martin Fraser, and two experienced assistant secretaries that oversee international economic matters, Lorcan Fullam and John Callinan. Following this delegation, the Taoiseach was invited to Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters in the United States in June 2014.
Kenny reportedly had a meeting with Sandberg a the Menlo Park HQ where the two discussed the need for a single tax regulator in the EU and who would replace Hawkes as Data Protection Commissioner. A letter from Sandberg to Kenny following the meeting provides some insight into what was discussed, with Sandberg saying, “We agree with you that to have a true Single Market approach, it is important to have one regulator, whether on privacy or tax, to enable businesses and benefit consumers across the EU. Without this, the risk is that companies will revisit their investment strategies for the EU market. We hope you will continue to play a leadership role on the Data Protection regulation since there is still more work to do there.”
The letter continues to say, “It was helpful to hear how you are focused on finding a strong successor to Billy Hawkes, as Data Protection Commissioner for Ireland. Billy will be a hard act to follow and we are hopeful that his successor will be someone who will establish a collaborative working relationship with companies like ours and be able to lead on the important issue of data protection compliance in Europe.”
By the time that Kenny opened Facebook’s new offices in Dublin’s Silicon Docks, the Taoiseach had created a new role within his own department, a Minister of State with responsibility for Data Protection to which Dara Murphy was appointed. Kenny discussed this in his statement to Facebook executives while opening the new offices, saying, “On a very serious note, one of the key challenges going forward for companies such as yours, is Data Protection ….I believe that it is of the utmost importance to work closely with out new Data Protection Commissioner. As a measure of the seriousness with which we take this issue, I have recently appointed a new Minister of State for Data Protection – Dara Murphy – within my own Department, as we are very conscious that we need to be fully on top of all aspects of Data Protection.”He continued, “In this area, Ireland’s ability to build and maintain good relationships at EU and international fora on Data Protection is paramount for the continued growth of this exciting new area of opportunity in Ireland and we are determined to address all the complex issues which these challenges raise.”
By June of 2015 funding for the Data Protection Commissioner had been increased, according to a memo following a meeting between the former Minister for Enterprise Jobs and Innovation, Richard Bruton, and senior Facebook executives who had met with Bruton to discuss the construction of a €200m Data Centre in Clonee, County Meath. The document states, “Minister Bruton outlined the economic work of the Government over recent years, the appointment of a Minister of State for Data Protection, the fact that we work closely with the EU on Data issues and that we recently strengthened the office of the Data Protection Commissioner by allocating additional resources.”