German court grants parents access to dead daughter's Facebook account

By Daniel Uria  |  July 12, 2018 at 11:08 PM
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July 12 (UPI) -- Germany's highest court ruled Thursday that Facebook must grant the parents of a 15-year-old girl, who died in 2012, access to her social media account.

The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe ruled parents can inherit their child's social media accounts in the same way they would be able to receive physical property such as diaries and private letters.

"From an inheritance law view, there is no reason to treat digital content differently," the court said.

The court added the parents also had a right to know who their minor child was speaking to online.

The girl died after being struck by a train and her parents sought to access her account to view her posts and private messages to determine whether the death was an accident or an act of suicide.

If the death was determined to be a suicide the train conductor would be entitled to compensation.

The parents said their daughter had given them her password as a condition to open the account when she was 14, but upon logging on they found the profile had been converted into an online memorial.

"Memorialized accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away," according to Facebook.

Facebook had refused to grant the parents access to their daughter's account, citing privacy protection laws.

"We feel for the family. At the same time we have to ensure that personal exchanges between people on Facebook are protected. We represented a different position in this dispute, and the drawn-out court case shows how complex the matter is in legal terms," the company said at the time.

A lower German court ruled in favor of the parents in 2015, but an appeals court overturned the ruling two years later ruling the contract between the girl and Facebook ended after her death.

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