British lawmakers have taken the extraordinary step of seizing internal Facebook documents that had been carried into the country by an American businessman whose startup is suing the social network.
The documents relate to Facebook’s use of personal data. They had been acquired by the startup, Six4Three, during the discovery process of the suit. The smaller firm had built an app that was designed to find bikini shots among the photos of Facebook users’ ‘friends’.
Facebook cut off Six4Three’s data access in 2015, prompting the suit — Six4Three claimed Facebook had promised small developers long-term data access. Earlier this month, the startup filed papers which claimed that emails it had acquired in discovery showed Facebook had lied to Congress about its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revolved around the misuse of people’s personal data.
Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly refused to testify to the British Parliament about the Cambridge Analytica affair, and it seems lawmakers are fed up with that resistance.
Six4Three’s founder was reportedly in his London hotel when Parliament’s serjeant-at-arms — a ceremonial officer whose job is nominally to maintain security — showed up and demanded he hand over the emails. He refused and was escorted to Parliament, where he was threatened with fines and imprisonment if he failed to comply.
Facebook was outraged, writing to Damian Collins — Parliament’s culture and media committee chair — to complain that the emails were supposed to be under seal, per U.S. law.
“I have reviewed [the documents] and the committee will discuss how we will proceed early next week. Under U.K. law and parliamentary privilege we can publish papers if we choose to as part of our inquiry,” Collins tweeted Sunday.
Collins’s correspondence was with Richard Allan, Facebook’s head of policy in Europe and a former member of Parliament. Allan is due to appear Tuesday before an unprecedented international committee — comprising lawmakers from the U.K., Brazil, Ireland, Canada, Latvia, Argentina and Singapore — that will hear his evidence regarding disinformation on the social network. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to appear.