Parents can inherit dead daughter’s Facebook account: German court
BERLIN: Germany’s top court ruled Thursday that Facebook should grant a grieving mother access to her dead daughter’s account, in a landmark judgement for how social network data is treated after its owners pass away.
Judges at the Federal Constitutional Court 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,” the Karlsruhe-based court ruled.
Those heirs “have a claim on the network operator for access to the account including communications data,” the ruling continued.
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.
The plaintiff 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.
– Diary or data? –
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.
Now the Constitutional Court has found that “a person sending a message can be sure that [Facebook] will only make it available to the account they selected” as recipient of the message.
But the way Facebook works means “there is no assurance that only the owner of the account and no third parties will find out about the account’s contents,” the judges added.
What’s more, “even legal relationships with highly personal content are transferred to the heirs” after someone’s death, the judges said, citing explicitly the examples of “analogue documents like diaries and personal letters”.
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”.