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UK Parliament seizes sensitive Facebook documents

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file photo taken on May 16, 2018 shows the logo of the social network Facebook on a broken screen of a mobile phone. (AFP photo)

The British Parliament has managed to gain access to some sensitive documents from Facebook that could shed more light into a major privacy breach which surfaced in early 2018 and showed how the US social media company had misused personal data of tens of millions of users.

The Observer newspaper said in a report on Sunday that the documents had been seized recently from an executive of Six4Three, an US tech firm involved in a legal action against Facebook, while he was on a trip to London.

A committee of the House of Commons investigating the so-called Cambridge Analytica data scandal ordered the seizure of the documents, said the report.

It said the American businessman was escorted from his hotel in London to the parliament after he initially rejected an order through a sergeant at arms to hand over the documents. The executive had obtained the documents legally in the US as part of court action against Facebook.

Sources said the documents were highly relevant to the current parliamentary inquiry into how Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a British consultancy firm, managed to manipulate personal data of 87 million users for political advertising in the US.

In a ruling issued in March, the UK data watchdog fined Facebook £500,000 over the case. Facebook has appealed against the verdict, saying the fine was unjustified because British authorities had found no evidence that UK users' personal data had been shared inappropriately.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee of the British parliament said the seizure of the documents, which came through an unprecedented method, was necessary as Facebook had repeatedly refused to cooperate with the committee.

“We felt this [information] was highly relevant to the inquiry... and therefore we sent an order to Mr [Ted] Kramer through the sergeant at arms asking that these documents be supplied to us. Ultimately, that order was complied with,” said DCMS chairman Damian Collins, adding that the documents contained emails and information about how Facebook and other parties handle user data.

Facebook officials told the Observer that they expected British authorities to hand over the documents, saying they were 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,” read a statement from Facebook.

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