Foreign Nationals Seeking Facebook Information

Surviving family members of a Facebook user in Great Britain filed an ex parte application for access to the deceased’s Facebook account to show the deceased’ state of mind for the Coroner’s investigation in Manchester, England. In re Facebook, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134977, at *1-2 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 20, 2012).

The Court denied their application based on the Stored Communication Acts.

The Court explained that granting the application would violate the “specific [privacy] interests that the [SCA] seeks to protect.” In re Facebook, Inc., at *3. The Court further stated, “It would be odd, to put it mildly, to grant discovery related to foreign proceedings but not those taking place in the United States.” Id.

The Court also quashed the application on the issue of the survivors consenting on the deceased behalf, because the court lacked jurisdiction on that issue. In re Facebook, Inc., at *4.

The Court stated it would not give an advisory opinion on whether the Applications could offer consent so that Facebook could produce the user information voluntarily. However, the Court noted that Facebook could determine for itself if the Applicants had standing to consent on the deceased’s behalf and produce the user information voluntarily. In re Facebook, Inc., at *5.

Bow Tie Thoughts

The Stored Communication Act exists to protect privacy rights for those using remote computing services or stored communications. Given the tone of this case involving British subjects, it would be interesting to know whether any of them were the executor of the deceased’s estate, which would likely solve any consent issues.

Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg from 2013 to 2016 and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.