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Last weekend, the UK parliament seized a cache of Facebook internal documents. The parliament exercised its legal powers after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg continuously refused to answer questions  regarding privacy and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. User data privacy was a major concern for the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) committee of UK.

As reported in the Observer, the cache of the obtained documents likely contains significant revelations about social media giant’s decisions on user data privacy and controls or the lack of which led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This includes confidential emails between Facebook’s senior executives.

How did they seize the cache of documents?

The chair of DCMS, Damian Collins initiated a parliamentary procedure to make the founder of Six4Three hand over the documents. This happened during his business trip in London. They also sent a serjeant at arms to recover the documents. When Six4Three’s founder did not comply, he was likely escorted to the parliament where he was facing fines and imprisonment for non-compliance.

Collins said to the Observer: “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.

What is Six4Three and how did they get said documents?

Six4Three was a software company that produced a way to search for bikini pictures from your Facebook contacts.

After investing $250K, Six4Three alleged that the cache contains information that indicates Facebook was aware of the implications of its privacy policy and also actively exploited them. They intentionally created and then denied the loophole that allowed Cambridge Analytica to collect data which affected over 87 million users. This detail caught the attention of Collins and the DCMS committee.

In 2015, Six4Three filed a lawsuit against Facebook. The complaint was that Facebook promised developers long-term access to user data for creating apps for them. But then, they later shut off access to such data. The documents which Six4Three obtained are under seal on order of a Californian court. This didn’t stop the UK parliament from enforcing its own power when the company’s owner was in London.

Facebook asking not to read or reveal the documents

A Facebook Spokesperson told the Observer: “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.

The email exchange

Since the news was first covered by press, Facebook responded with an email:

To which Collins wrote back saying that under parliamentary privilege the committee can publish these documents:

The session hearing

It is not clear if Facebook can make any legal moves to restrict the publication of the documents. However, the court hearing to be held tomorrow will be attended by Richard Allan, Facebook vice-president of policy, after Zuckerberg refused to attend. Earlier, Zuckerberg also declined many video call requests by the committee.

It will be a very long session where Allan says that they (the committee) has very serious questions for Facebook: “It[Facebook] misled us about Russian involvement on the platform. And it has not answered our questions about who knew what, when with regards to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

But with Allan, a politician, who was a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament representing Facebook, it is to be seen how many questions will be answered directly.

This story was first published in The Observer.

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