A huge dossier of secret documents about the Facebook data scandal was published by British MPs today in defiance of a US court order.
Damian Collins, the chairman of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said there was a ‘considerable public interest’ in the papers.
He said Facebook had failed to give ‘straight answers’ to his inquiry after Mark Zuckerberg failed to show up to a grand committee featuring politicians from eight countries last week.
Mr Collins seized the documents from the owner of a controversial app maker Six4Three last month using his parliamentary privilege.
The dossier includes emails written by Mr Zuckerberg himself, as well as hundreds of documents about privileged access to data given by Facebook to certain applications.
Mr Collins said: ‘I believe there is considerable public interest in releasing these documents.
‘They raise important questions about how Facebook treats users data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market.
‘We don’t feel we have had straight answers from Facebook on these important issues, which is why we are releasing the documents.
‘We need a more public debate about the rights of social media users and the smaller businesses who are required to work with the tech giants. I hope that our committee investigation can stand up for them.’
Mr Zuckerberg was ’empty chaired’ by the grand committee last week after sent executive Richard Allan for the grilling instead.
Facebook had demanded the Six4Three papers published today be handed back without being opened by MPs or published.
Six4Three are the makers of the controversial app Pinkini – which allows users to search for pictures of their friends in bikinis – and is suing Facebook for restricting the app’s access to users’ data.
As part of its case, Six4Three’s lawyers were handed internal Facebook documents – including executives’ email correspondence with Mr Zuckerberg – but they were ‘sealed’ by a court in California, meaning they are kept secret.
It believed the documents show how the firm created and effectively drew attention to a privacy loophole later used by Cambridge Analytica to collect the data of millions of users.
Six4Three managing director Ted Kramer gave the documents to British authorities after being warned he could be banned from leaving the UK if he refused.
In an extraordinary sequence of events, he ignored three demands for the emails before being personally served by a Serjeant at Arms and meeting Mr Collins in his Commons office.
MPs drew up the ‘unprecedented’ order to seize the documents after discovering that Mr Kramer was due to visit the UK.
Mr Kramer has claimed in court documents he ‘panicked’ while in the meeting with Mr Collins and his staff, meaning he copied documents from his cloud storage and onto a USB stick.
But after seizing the documents, Mr Collins said: ‘Under UK law and parliamentary privilege we can publish papers if we choose to.
‘As you know we have asked many questions of Facebook about its policies on sharing user data.
‘I believe these documents may contain important information.’
In a statement issued after the committee hearing today, Facebook said of the claim that an engineer had flagged concerns about Russians trawling the site for data: ‘The engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity.’
Lord Allan has also urged Mr Collins not to reveal the documents. He warned Collins yesterday in an email that the documents are ‘sub judice before a court in California’ and are ‘sealed’.
Lord Allan is a Liberal Democrat peer and unlike previous Facebook witnesses at the House of Commons is an expert in Parliament’s procedures.
He spent eight years as MP for Sheffield Hallam and was succeeded by Nick Clegg, who has since been hired by Facebook since he lost the seat last year.
A US judge in California had ordered the files, obtained from Facebook via a legal discovery process, could not be revealed to the public earlier this year.
Mr Zuckerberg has repeatedly refused to attend the UK Parliament saying that he has already testified to Congress in the US and before the European Union.
‘It is not possible for Mr Zuckerberg to be available to all parliaments,’ the firm said.
Facebook said after the documents were seized: ‘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.’