Britain's parliament is threatening to publish internal Facebook documents on privacy

"Under U.K. law and parliamentary privilege, we can publish papers if we choose to as part of our inquiry."

by David Gilbert
Nov 26 2018, 4:12pm


Facebook is fighting to stop a British lawmaker publishing a cache of secret company documents related to the platform’s privacy policy.

Member of Parliament Damian Collins threatened Sunday to use parliamentary privilege to publish the emails, as they are “highly relevant” to his ongoing inquiry into Facebook's use of personal data.

It was reported Saturday that Collins used a little-known legal mechanism to procure the documents — including emails from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — from Ted Kramer, the CEO of Six4Three, a U.S. software company currently in a legal battle with Facebook.

Among the allegations made by Six4Three is that Facebook disregarded user privacy and that Zuckerberg devised a plan 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," Kramer told CNN earlier this year.

Collins exchanged letters Sunday with Facebook’s Director of Policy in Europe, Richard Allan, who argued that Britain’s parliament had no right to publish the documents as they are under seal in a California court.

Collins hit back, saying that Allan, a former British lawmaker himself, was aware that U.S. court rules do not apply in the United Kingdom.

Allan is set to meet with Collins and lawmakers from six other countries in London Tuesday at the inaugural meeting of the “International Grand Committee on Disinformation.” Many expect Collins to make the secret documents public during the hearing.

Zuckerberg was asked to attend, but once again declined.

The documents were obtained from Kramer, who visited London last week.

Kramer initially refused to hand over the files, so Collins took the extraordinary decision to send parliamentary sergeant-at-arms to Kramer’s hotel and issue a two-hour warning to produce them, according to the Guardian, which first reported the incident.

When the documents were still not handed over, Kramer was reportedly escorted to Parliament and warned he risked fines and imprisonment if the files were not surrendered. Collins received the files sometime soon after.

Kramer’s company brought a legal action against Facebook, after it spent $250,000 developing a controversial app called Pikini that would allow Facebook users to search for pictures of their friends wearing bikinis. Facebook pulled the plug on the project two years ago.

The app did not breach Facebook's terms and conditions when it was first released in 2013. At the time app developers were able to access information not only about their users but also about their users' Facebook friends, including users' friends' photos. This changed in 2015.

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The resulting legal battle is currently going through the courts in California — and last week a judge ruled none of the document should be made public. Six4Three said it has asked the British committee headed by Collins to “refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to Facebook.”

Cover image: Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reacts as he speaks at the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 24, 2018. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

This article originally appeared on VICE News US.

Damian Collins