As more voices join the chorus of detractors accusing Facebook of trampling over privacy laws, Facebook's adding a couple of sirens of its own to answer those charges. All Facebook is reporting that Facebook has added some sizable muscle to its legal division with the hiring of Steptoe & Johnson, an international law firm that often represents clients before government bodies.
We reported at the end of February that, upon the build-up of many disparate lawsuits, a national class-action suit was beginning to take shape. It just so happens that, according to Steptoe's website, that's one of the firms specialties:
Steptoe’s class action lawyers either have direct experience with these industries and fields of regulation, or work in tandem with those Steptoe lawyers who do.
We believe this is a critical aspect of class action defense because strategy and tactics are often determined on the basis of the substantive law governing the claims of the putative class. For example, class claims may be vulnerable to dismissal in the early stages of litigation based on exclusive and primary jurisdiction doctrines or federal preemption principles. We frequently work with federal regulators to obtain amici curiae briefs or other support of the defendants’ position.
The firm could have been hired to act as a lobbyist for Facebook as privacy laws continue to evolve in the different parts of the world, especially since so many of Steptoe's professionals have experience working within government institutions. Understandably, Facebook would want to have a chance to say their piece in that discussion. Given the wave of privacy-related lawsuits happening lately, though, it's foolish to expect that wave has crested yet. Facebook hasn't yet been dragged into a court room yet but surely their day is coming if the accusations of violating wiretapping laws and the sort continue.
In that case, retaining a legal firm with beaucoup experience in government cases, especially with some experience in class action defense, might be an indication that Facebook sees a court room battle over its practices as inevitable.