Parliament seizes Facebook documents in 'unprecedented move'

Cache said to shed light on data and privacy controls in use before Cambridge Analytica data scandal

Samuel Osborne@SamuelOsborne93
Sunday 25 November 2018 18:52
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Parliament has used its legal powers to seize a tranche of internal Facebook documents as MPs investigate the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

The documents reportedly lay bare the data and privacy controls used by the social media giant before the breach was made public.

They were intercepted when the boss of a US software company in possession of the cache visited the UK on business, according to The Observer.

Damian Collins, chair of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, compelled the founder of the firm to hand over the documents using a rare parliamentary mechanism.

In a highly unusual move a serjeant at arms was sent to the businessman’s hotel where he was given 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 warned he risked fines and imprisonment if the documents were not surrendered, the paper said.

The firm is involved in court action against Facebook in the US, where the documents were obtained through legal mechanisms.

“We are in uncharted territory. 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,” Mr Collins told the paper.

Facebook had some “very serious questions” to answer, he said, and he accused it of misleading the committee over Russian involvement in the platform.

“It has not answered our questions about who knew what, with regards to the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” Mr Collins 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.”

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Facebook said: “The materials obtained by the DCMS committee are subject to a protective order of the San Mateo Superior Court restricting their disclosure.

“We have asked the DCMS committee to refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to Facebook.

“We have no further comment.”

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The move comes after Mark Zuckerberg said he was “unable” to testify to an international “grand committee” investigating Facebook’s role in spreading fake news.

The social media company will instead send Richard Allan, its vice president of policy solutions, to answer questions at a hearing in the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by PA

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