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UK Parliament Obtains Documents that Facebook Fought to Be Kept Private

November 25th 2018

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The British Parliament has used their legal powers to obtain a set of internal Facebook documents the social media giant has fought for months to stop from being made public, according to Facebook and a lawyer involved in a suit against the company, as was reported by CNN.

The Guardian of London has reported that the move by the UK legislative body was an attempt to hold Facebook accountable after its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly declined to provide response to questions posed to him by members of parliament.

The paper reported that the cache of documents may contain evidence about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It is claimed they include confidential emails between senior executives, and correspondence with Zuckerberg.

CNN has reported that the documents stem from a lawsuit in California that outlines a litany of allegations against Facebook, including claims about the company’s alleged disregard for user privacy and the claim that Zuckerberg devised a scheme that forced Facebook’s rivals, or potential rivals, out of business.

“We allege that Facebook itself is the biggest violator of data misuse in the history of the software industry,” Ted Kramer, the owner of software company Six4Three, the company suing Facebook, told CNN in an interview this summer.

Kramer told CNN he wants the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and attorneys general across the United States to investigate the allegations Six4Three is making.

The Guardian reported that Damian Collins, the chair of the UK culture, media and sport select committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel Kramer to produce the documents during a business trip to London. In another exceptional move, the UK parliament sent a sergeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When Kramer failed to do so, he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents.

“We are in uncharted territory,” said Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news. “This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”

Facebook contacted the court in California when it learned of Collins’ request. Tuesday, the judge in the case ordered that no unredacted copies of the relevant sealed documents should be released until further notice from the court, and that “failure to comply will be considered an act of contempt.”

According to the CNN report, the internal documents were obtained by Kramer’s lawyers through discovery, a legal process whereby one party to a lawsuit can obtain evidence from the other.

The San Mateo Superior Court in California ordered the documents remain under seal, meaning they should not be made public by Six4Three.

The seizure is the latest move in a bitter battle between the British parliament and the social media giant. The struggle to hold Facebook to account has raised concerns about limits of British authority over international companies that now play a key role in the democratic process, according to the Guardian report.

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