Lawmakers zero in on Zuckerberg

Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFight looms over national privacy law Facebook teaming with nonprofits to fight fake election news China may be copying Facebook to build an intelligence weapon MORE is drawing intense scrutiny from lawmakers demanding that the Facebook founder testify to Congress about the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

Facebook’s data practices are under the microscope like never before following a report that the British research firm connected to President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE’s campaign improperly obtained information on 50 million Facebook users as it sought to find ways of influencing voters at the polls.

On Monday, the top Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee — Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Fight looms over national privacy law Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches MORE (S.D.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Trump cancels Mississippi rally due to hurricane Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (Miss.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data McConnell: Sessions should stay as attorney general Tougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans MORE (Kan.) — sent a list of questions to Zuckerberg about the “troubling” reports, with Moran saying Zuckerberg needed to testify.

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“That’s our first step, and then I think testimony in front of the Commerce Committee would be appropriate and required,” Moran told reporters on Tuesday. “I think there’s a lot of questions left to be answered.”

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify publicly Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Trump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe MORE (Calif.), also told The Hill on Tuesday that he believes that Zuckerberg, along with other CEOs, should attend hearings.

“We had the general counsel come in. That was quite some time ago. We’ve learned more about the Russian interference since then,” Schiff explained.

Zuckerberg is also taking heat in Europe.

British lawmakers, who are concerned about the episode with London-based Cambridge Analytica, have called on him to appear before Parliament’s digital oversight committee.

As the calls for answers mount, Zuckerberg has remained silent. His company has sought to send the signal that it takes the matter seriously even as it faults Cambridge Analytica and other players.

“Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue,” Facebook said in a statement, referring to the company’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”

The company has also promised to investigate the incident and Cambridge Analytica’s handling of the data. For its part, Cambridge Analytica has denied any wrongdoing and says that the data was not used during its work for the Trump campaign.

The appearance before any congressional panel of the billionaire tech magnate would be a cable television blockbuster — particularly given Cambridge Analytica’s work for President Trump’s campaign and the cloud of the Russia investigation hanging over the political world.

Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs take great pains to stay out of the spotlight in the midst of controversies, and that impulse is likely heightened now that the industry is faced with a growing movement that wants to hit them with tougher regulations.

Facebook in October revealed that Russian groups used its platform to influence the U.S. political process. That led to hearings in November at which lawmakers grilled Facebook and other tech companies about how the influence campaign was able to use their platforms to sow discord among voters.

Facebook dispatched its top lawyer to testify in November. This time around, Congress is strongly hinting that sending lawyers won’t be enough.

“The last time we had a hearing, Facebook and Google and Twitter sent their lawyers, which were undoubtedly expensive because they did a damn fine job of dodging and bobbing and weaving,” Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) told reporters on Monday. “They didn’t say a damn thing.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls GOP in striking distance to retake Franken seat MORE (D-Minn.) and Kennedy this week urged Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley extends deadline for Kavanaugh accuser to decide on testifying Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Kavanaugh accuser seeks additional day to decide on testimony MORE (R-Iowa) to hold a hearing with Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs about how their platforms oversee political firms’ data practices.

“This is a major breach that must be investigated,” Klobuchar said over the weekend. “It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves.”

While members have ripped executives at Facebook and other companies, the major social media platforms are no closer to facing regulation today then they were immediately after the November hearings. One of Facebook’s biggest worries now is that public testimony from Zuckerberg about his company’s data and advertising practices could be one of the first steps toward changing that.

Klobuchar said that Facebook’s controversy with Cambridge Analytica is further evidence that internet companies need to be regulated. She and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRussia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ MORE (Va.), have pushed their Honest Ads Act legislation, which aims to hold tech companies to the same political ad transparency standards as radio, TV and print outlets, as a way to do this.

For all of the growing bipartisan outrage at companies like Facebook and Google, Republicans have generally been loath to regulate the platforms. But there’s no guarantee that Facebook’s good luck will continue in the wake of this latest scandal, especially as Democrats, who have a good chance of reclaiming Congress this year, become more willing to confront Silicon Valley and its left-leaning leaders.

“Mark Zuckerberg ought to be subpoenaed if he doesn’t appear voluntarily. [He should] appear under oath, in public, along with other CEOs in the same space, and Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica and others connected with the company,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.