Tech Industry

White House picks Twitter lawyer as Internet privacy officer

Nicole Wong, a respected Silicon Valley attorney with more than a decade of experience in copyright and privacy law, will join the Obama administration.

Nicole Wong, answering questions in front of the San Jose federal courthouse in 2006, when Google fought a legal battle against a broad Justice Department request for user search terms.
Declan McCullagh/CNET

President Obama has picked Nicole Wong, Twitter's legal director, to be the White House's first chief privacy officer, CNET has learned.

Wong previously was a vice president and deputy general counsel at Google at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, where she managed a team of lawyers that worked with the company's engineers to review products before they launched. The reviews included privacy, copyright, and removal requests, which earned her a nickname of "The Decider" -- as recounted in a 2008 New York Times Magazine article.

A person familiar with the situation told CNET that the new position will be a senior adviser to the chief technology officer, currently Todd Park, and will focus on Internet and privacy policy. Park succeeded Aneesh Chopra, who was the first to be appointed to that job and left in January 2012.

Neither Wong nor the White House immediately responded to a request for comment from CNET.

Choosing a Silicon Valley lawyer who has been immersed in technology issues is a reversal of the administration's previous picks for department-level chief privacy officers. Homeland Security Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan is a Washington lawyer who previously worked for the Library of Congress.

Wong joined Twitter last year after working at Google for eight years. Before that, she was a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm. She received her law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. She and her family live in Berkeley.

Twitter has won applause for protecting users from police requests that are overly broad: the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave the company 6 of 6 stars in its latest survey of tech companies, titled "Who Has Your Back?" Twitter is also part of a coalition that has been lobbying for over three years to rewrite federal privacy law to require search warrants for e-mail messages and other data stored on remote servers.

Updated at 12:45 p.m. PT with additional information about the position and the link to EFF's latest scorecard.