UK parliament stuns Facebook with seizure of internal documents

26 Nov 2018

Image: © jbyard/

The UK investigation into the Cambridge Analytica affair at Facebook has been ratcheted up a notch after the sudden seizure of internal files.

Facebook has been left shellshocked after its internal files were seized in a matter of hours over the weekend through a third-party company using the full extent of UK parliamentary powers.

According to The Observer, after being frustrated by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to answer questions from the government, those in power decided to compel him through other means.

The chair of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee (DCMS), Damian Collins, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to force the founder of US software company Six4Three to hand over documents the executive had during a recent business trip to London. Six4Three had obtained the documents during a legal battle with the social network over an app the developer had invested $250,000 in.

The company alleged that Facebook knew full well of the implications of its privacy policy and actively exploited the loophole that allowed Cambridge Analytica to gather vast amounts of data from Facebook users. It is also claimed that within the files are a number of confidential emails between Zuckerberg and other senior Facebook executives.

In this latest development, Collins demanded that the head of Six4Three hand over these documents, even going as far as to send a sergeant at arms to the executive’s hotel to enforce a two-hour deadline. When the executive failed to comply, he was escorted to parliament and threatened with fines and imprisonment.

‘It’s an unprecedented situation’

“This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation,” Collins said. “We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”

Responding to the claims made by Six4Three, Facebook said that they “have no merit” and that it will continue to defend itself “vigorously”.

Meanwhile, with regard to the seized files, Facebook said: “The materials obtained by the DCMS committee are subject to a protective order of [a California] 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.”

While the files are subject to this Californian court, the fact that the summons was issued in London, where the UK parliament has jurisdiction, compelled the Six4Three executive to comply.

The move comes just a few days after Facebook lodged an appeal against the record £500,000 fine levied by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic