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Court tells Facebook: Let dead girl's parents see her messages

Video: Facebook suffers legal setback in Germany, loses privacy case.

Germany’s highest civil court has ordered Facebook to grant the parents of a dead girl full access to her account.

It’s a reversal of a ruling last year that said doing so would be a privacy violation. The parents now reportedly have access to her private messages.

The 15-year-old girl in question died in 2012 under a Berlin subway train. To find out if she had died from suicide as a result of bullying, her parents tried to get Facebook to provide access to her chat records.

However, the social network had put her profile into a memorial state, limiting what they could see, even though they had her login details.

After the parents launched a legal battle to retrieve their daughters’ messages, they initially got a Berlin district court to side with them.

But then Berlin’s appellate court sided with Facebook, saying German privacy law covered the messages, so they could only be accessed in case of technical necessity or with the profile-holder’s consent.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The appeals court also said the girl’s correspondents were covered by the privacy law.

On Thursday morning, the Federal Court of Justice overturned that ruling, with judge Ulrich Herrmann saying digital content should be treated in the same way as letters and diaries, which are passed on to heirs.

According to German media, clearing up whether the girl’s death was suicide or not won’t just achieve closure for the parents. If it was suicide, then the driver of the train that struck her may also get compensation.

“These questions — how to weigh the wishes of the relatives and protect the privacy of third parties — are some of the toughest we’ve confronted,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“We empathize with the family. At the same time, Facebook accounts are used for a personal exchange between individuals, which we have a duty to protect.

“While we respectfully disagree with today’s decision by the FCJ, the lengthy process shows how complex the issue under discussion is.”

Previous and related coverage

Facebook privacy: Court backs blocking parents from dead girl’s account

Facebook’s been on the receiving end of several adverse privacy rulings, but its stance in one case has now been vindicated.

Europe’s top court has just blown a big hole in Facebook’s fan-page terms

New CJEU ruling in Facebook case could have “far-reaching effects” for GDPR contracts.

Facebook’s new court defeat: This time it ‘may have free speech implications’

Far-right leader’s win over Facebook in a German comment case could have international ramifications.

Court tells Facebook: Stop deleting ‘offensive’ comment

Facebook’s move to block a user and cut a comment from that account has been challenged by a German court.

Facebook’s fake account crackdown: Our AI spots nudity, hate, terror before you do

Facebook’s new report attempts to convey how effective its AI is at flagging bad content and fake accounts.

Facebook is breaking law in how it collects your personal data, court rules

As Facebook prepares to roll out a new privacy center, a German court rules against its data-collection practices.

Facebook data privacy scandal: A cheat sheet TechRepublic

Read about the saga of Facebook’s failures in ensuring privacy for user data, including how it relates to Cambridge Analytica, the GDPR, the Brexit campaign, and the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook loophole let marketers harvest data from private groups, report says CNET

Members of a closed group discovered a Chrome extension let marketers download personal info, according to CNBC.

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