German court: Parents have right to access dead daughter's Facebook profile

Facebook logo at the Facebook Gather conference in Brussels Belgium January 2018

After the 15-year-old was killed by an underground train in 2012, her parents first asked Facebook for access to her data and message history, hoping they would shed light on whether the death was an accident or a deliberate suicide.

Last year, the BBC reported a first court in Berlin had rule in favour of the family, saying a social media account can be inherited just as letters are.

Relatives should have the right to access their dead loved ones' Facebook accounts, a German court ruled Thursday.

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.

But in 2017, an appeals court backed Facebook and overturned the ruling, on the grounds that any contract between the girl and the company ended with her death and could not pass on to the parents. Parents also had a right to know about their child's communication if they were minors, according to the court.

But now in Germany, thanks to Thursday's ruling, personal Facebook data should be treated the same as personal letters and diaries and passed on to the heirs of the deceased.

Even the European Union's latest and strictest data protection rules, known as GDPR, do not stand in the way of the transfer, they added, as "the regulation only protects living people".

A Facebook spokesman told AFP the firm had "a different position" from the court, adding that "the question of how we balance the wishes of relatives and protecting the privacy of third parties is among the most hard that we face".

It was not immediately clear whether or how the social network might adjust its processes in case of a user's death in response to the judgement.

Facebook had turned the girl's profile into a so-called "memorial page", where access to the user data is not possible although the content still exists on Facebook servers.

When someone dies, Facebook's current policy is to memorialize their account, locking it down but allowing people to still see it and pay tribute to its owner.

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.

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