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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

UK Parliament seizes internal Facebook documents 

The documents may unveil how user data decisions were made in the years before Cambridge Analytica

Facebook hired a controversial public relations firm that targeted the company’s critics. AFP
Facebook hired a controversial public relations firm that targeted the company’s critics. AFP

The UK Parliament invoked a rarely used legal power to compel a US software company to hand over internal Facebook documents that could contain revelations on the run-up to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Damian Collins, MP and chair of the culture, media and sport select committee used a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel the founder of Six4Three to hand over the documents while on a business trip, local media reported on Saturday.

A serjeant was sent to his hotel to issue a final call and communicate a two-hour deadline to comply with the order. British daily The Guardian reported that when the firm founder failed to comply, he was escorted to parliament. Not complying with the request could have led to fines and even imprisonment.

The cache of documents is alleged to include email exchange between senior executives, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckenberg.

“We are in uncharted territory,” Mr Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news, told local media. “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.”

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The move is the latest fight in a battle the British parliament is fighting to hold Facebook accountable. Facebook’s failure to compel Cambridge Analytica to delete all traces of data from its servers enabled the company to retain predictive models derived from millions of social media profiles.

The Guardian has been behind this investigation, which shamed Facebook and exposed foul play in the EU referendum campaign and US presidential election. The social media giant lost over $100bn in value since the story broke in March.

The documents now may unveil how user data decisions were made in the years before Cambridge Analytica, plunging Facebook into a new PR crisis.

According to Facebook, “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.”

It is yet unclear whether there are any legal caveats the social media giant could use to prevent publication.