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UK Parliament seizes internal Facebook documents

Sealed court documents contain company decisions on data and privacy control, The Guardian reports.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly declined requests to testify before Parliament about the company's handling of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

James Martin/CNET

British Parliament seized internal Facebook documents over the weekend in an unusual attempt to address questions the government feels the company has been avoiding.

The documents reportedly contain "significant revelations" about Facebook decisions on data and privacy control related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as correspondence between top executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, The Guardian reported Saturday.

The founder of Six4Three, a now-defunct US software company, was compelled to hand over the documents through a rare parliamentary mechanism during a business trip to London, the newspaper reported. In another unusual move, Parliament sent an official to the founder's hotel with a warning to comply with the order or face possible fines or imprisonment, The Guardian reported. When he refused, he was escorted to Parliament, where the documents were taken from him.

The seizure came as more countries called Zuckerberg to attend a joint international hearing in London next week investigating disinformation and election interference. Facebook has been under intense scrutiny for its response to the presence of propaganda and other forms of disinformation in people's Facebook news feeds.

Zuckerberg has repeatedly turned down requests to testify before Parliament about Facebook's role in the data scandal. Chair of Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins has previously warned that if Mark Zuckerberg comes to the UK, he may be brought to Parliament and compelled to testify (which the government could do using the same mechanism used to seize the papers from the founder of Six4Three). Zuckerberg has not visited the UK since the Cambridge Analytica revelations came to light, although he has been to both Brussels and Paris.

The documents were seized during the discovery process in a Six4Three lawsuit that claims Facebook created privacy loopholes that allowed Cambridge Analytica to obtain Facebook user data.

Facebook pointed out that the documents seized were filed under seal and the California court presiding over the case is due to consider the Parliament's action as early as Monday.  

"We consider these to be entirely without merit and that the repeated filings demonstrate that this is more about attacking our company than it is about a credible legal claim," Richard Allan, Facebook's head of public policy, wrote in a letter sent to Parliament Sunday.

Collins posted his response to Allan on Twitter, saying that within the jurisdiction of the UK the committee is able to publish the documents due to parliamentary privilege.

Allan is due to appear in Parliament tomorrow, where he will be questioned by 22 politicians from seven countries as part the inaugural meeting of the Grand Committee on Disinformation and 'fake news'.

Representatives for Six4Three couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Updated: (Monday Nov. 26, 11:10 a.m. GMT) Added details about Zuckerberg in the UK, Parliament's response to Facebook and Richard Allan appearing in Parliament this week.

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