The UK Parliament has utilized rarely-used legal powers to seize internal Facebook documents relating to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Damian Collins, a Conservative MP who is the chair of the culture, media, and sport select committee – a committee temporarily formed to deal with a specific issue – compelled the founder of US software company Six4Three, Ted Kramer, to hand over documents during a business trip to London.
Parliament also sent security to the hotel where Kramer was staying with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with the order. When the founder failed to do so he was escorted to parliament and told that he risked fines and imprisonment if he refused to hand over the documents.
Six4Three developed an app called Pinkini, which uses machine learning to scan through Facebook photos of friends for pictures of them in bikinis. According to Boingboing, Facebook shut down the app after a terms-of-service change, but Six4Three sued Facebook and obtained internal Facebook documents through the discovery process. They are thought to contain confidential emails between Zuckerberg and senior Facebook executives.
Because the files have been sealed by San Mateo Superior Court in California, they cannot be shared or made public. However since the summons was issued in London, and therefore under parliamentary jurisdiction, Kramer had no choice but to comply. Facebook apparently sent a letter to Parliament asking it not to review the documents, but instead to destroy them. However, The Observer, who first reported this story, says that it is “unclear what, if any, legal moves Facebook can make to prevent publication.”
“We are in uncharted territory,” said Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news, which has also plagued Facebook since the 2016 Presidential election to the point that it is allocating funding for local journalists in the UK. However, the company is also responsible for painting bad press about Facebook as a targeted move by George Soros, who has been at the centre of numerous anti-Semitic conspiracy theories propogated by Republicans.
Quoted in The Observer, Collins also said that “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.”
This news comes after Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to be questioned by MPs about Facebook’s involvement in the spread of fake news. Collins said that Zuckerberg’s decisions forced MPs to explore other options to get information about Facebook’s workings.
“We have very serious questions for Facebook. It misled us about Russian involvement on the platform. And it has not answered our questions about who knew what, when with regards to the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” he said.
“We have followed this court case in America and we believed these documents contained answers to some of the questions we have been seeking about the use of data, especially by external developers.”
Richard Allan, the vice-president for policy at Facebook, will testify in place of Zuckerberg. He said that Facebook takes its responsibility for “a number of important issues around privacy, safety and democracy … very seriously.”
Allan is also a Liberal Democrat Peer (a member of the UK’s House of Lords), and a former member of parliament before he was succeeded by Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister and Facebook’s current president of global communications, marketing, and public policy.
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