Facebook: Court to rule on grieving parents' right to digital data

Posted in 12 July 2018

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Facebook refused to grant parents access to their daughter's data after her suspected suicide in 2012. Germany's highest court will now rule on whether the the right to inherit wins out against the right to data privacy.

Germany's Federal Court of Justice (BGH) was expected on Thursday to make a landmark ruling on whether relatives of people who have died have a right to access their digital data.

The case involves parents of a 15-year-old girl who asked Facebook to give them access to her data and messages after she was killed by an underground train in 2012.

The social media giant denied the request despite the parents' saying they wanted the information to decipher whether their daughter had died in an accident or committed suicide and, based on that, whether the train driver was entitled to compensation.

A lower-level court ruled in favor of the parents in 2015, supporting their claim that Facebook data is legally equivalent to private correspondence covered by Germany's inheritance law. Parents also had a right to know about their child's communication if they were minors, according to the court.

But an appeals court overturned the decision in 2017, ruling in favor of Facebook's claim that the German constitution, or Basic Law, entitles a person a right to data privacy even after their death.

Facebook only allows relatives of a deceased user to either convert their page into a "memorial" site or delete the page entirely.

The legal questions surrounding a person's "digital legacy" have previously arisen in the United States, where Apple refused a law enforcement request to unlock an iPhone of a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California.