Brennan Lawson, a former Facebook employee, sued the social media giant's parent company, Meta Platforms, on Tuesday, 6 July, for allegedly terminating his employment over concerns that he raised about an invasive tool that, he claims, allows Facebook to retrieve and access deleted messages.
Lawson, a former US Air Force veteran, was hired in 2018 as a senior risk & response escalations specialist in Community Operation as part of Facebook’s Global Escalation Team. His job was similar to that of a content moderator or screener.
In his lawsuit, Lawson alleged that he came to know of a new protocol in 2018 during an Escalation Team meeting, which would allow them to circumvent Facebook's usual privacy protocols and access deleted messages from the Messenger app.
For the Sake of 'Law Enforcement'
In case law enforcement agencies ask for information about who a suspect was messaging and the contents of their messages, Facebook could use this back-end tool to retrieve this data, even of messages that the user had intended to be permanently deleted, the lawsuit suggested.
The 'back-end protocol,' as described in the suit, would allow Lawson's team to access otherwise inaccessible messages.
The lawsuit stated that the protocol was apparently implemented so that Facebook could better comply with requests from law enforcement agencies.
Lawson claimed that he immediately raised concerns about the legality of the protocol, which seemed to violate the EU's 'right to be forgotten' policy as well as the US FTC's 2012 order that required Facebook to be transparent with users about its data retention policies.
Fired for Questioning the Protocol, Alleges Lawson
Lawson stated that he was on "shaky ground" after he began speaking out against the new protocol at meetings and feared losing his job because of it.
He was fired in 2019 for "improper usage of a Facebook administrative tool," referring to an instance when he used his credentials to help restore his grandmother's Facebook account which had been hacked.
But Lawson claimed that this reason was merely a pretext, and that he was actually fired for speaking out against the protocol. He also claimed that the poor performance review he was given was invalid.
Lawson remained unemployed for 18 months after being fired by Facebook and is now seeking over $3 million in punitive damages from the company.
Meta executives have so far not commented on the issue. However, a statement released by the company to Gizmodo read, “These claims are without merit and we will defend ourselves against them vigorously.”
(With input from Gizmodo.)