Facebook fights for deceased beauty queen's privacy

Mother of deceased beauty queen wants access to her daughter's Facebook account to prove the death was no suicide. A judge sides with Facebook, saying U.S. privacy law stands in the way.

Screen snapshot of a Web site, SaharDaftary.org, set up to solicit information about Daftary's death.
Screen snapshot of a Web site, SaharDaftary.org, set up to solicit information about Daftary's death. SaharDaftary.org

Facebook has successfully fought a subpoena trying to seek access to the account of a beauty queen who died after falling from the 12th floor of her ex-lover's apartment, CNET has learned.

A federal judge in California yesterday rejected a attempt from representatives of the estate of Sahar Daftary to gain access to her Facebook account.

Her mother is hoping to show a Manchester, U.K., coroner's inquest that Daftary, a onetime Face of Asia beauty contest winner, did not commit suicide when falling from the apartment of property developer Rashid Jamil in 2008.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal said that a federal law called the Stored Communications Act does not require Facebook to comply with such a subpoena in a civil case. Grewal wrote:

The case law confirms that civil subpoenas may not compel production of records from providers like Facebook.... It would be odd, to put it mildly, to grant discovery related to foreign proceedings but not those taking place in the United States. Nor is the court persuaded that Applicants' consent on Sahar's behalf distinguishes these precedents so as to justify compelling production... consent may permit production by a provider, it may not require such a production. The Applicants subpoena must be quashed.

U.K. police had arrested Jamil on suspicion of murder, but released him without charges. The coroner's inquest was told that Jamil had raped Daftary, the BBC reported in July.

Anisa Daftary, the late model's mother, says that her daughter used Facebook regularly and suspects that the Facebook account contains critical evidence showing her state of mind in the days leading up to her death.

The judge did suggest an alternate approach for Anisa Daftary to take: demonstrating that she has the authority to consent on behalf of her daughter to release Facebook posts from November and December 2008.

"Nothing prevents Facebook from concluding on its own that applicants have standing to consent on Sahar's behalf and providing the requested materials voluntarily," Grewal wrote.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. We'll update this article if we receive a response.

The Web site SaharDaftary.org has been created to ask anyone with any information about her death to come forward. It says: "If you have witnessed anything which may have a bearing on Sahar's death, however small or insignificant you think it may be, please... pass it to our investigators or solicitors."

 

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