Germany’s top court ruled on Thursday (July 12) that Facebook should grant a grieving mother access to her dead daughter’s account, in a landmark judgment for how social network data is treated after its owners die.
Judges at the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe found that the daughter’s contract with Facebook was part of her legacy and should be passed on to the mother, giving her full access to the daughter’s account including her posts and private messages.
“The contract covering a user account with a social network is transferred to the heirs of the original owner of the account,” they said.
The mother has battled Facebook through a years-long series of appeals after her 15-year-old daughter was killed by an underground train in 2012.
She hopes the data will shed light on whether the death was an accident or a suicide.
As well as offering emotional closure, court documents show, the information could clear up whether the train driver is owed compensation – as he might be if the daughter did kill herself.
The mother argued the contents of her daughter’s Facebook account are legally identical to a private diary or letters that might be inherited by loved ones after a person’s death.
Judges at the court of first instance in Berlin agreed that the contract between the deceased and Facebook was covered by inheritance law, including the digital content created on the account.
And parents of a minor in any case had a right to know when and with whom their daughter had communicated, they added.
But the Berlin appeals court, in a 2017 decision, backed Facebook’s argument that “privacy in telecommunications is guaranteed by Germany’s Basic Law (Constitution)” – for the daughter as well as for the people she exchanged messages with.
Facebook did not immediately comment on the ruling on Thursday when contacted by AFP.
The social network at present offers only two options to relatives when a user dies.
One allows them to turn the page into a “memorial” allowing people to post their condolences, but with no access to the deceased’s private messages.
Otherwise, a form allows relatives to ask Facebook to delete the dead person’s account.