Facebook must disclose records on underage account holders

Friday 08 August 2014 15.31
Facebook is being sued by the girl's father for alleged negligence and breaching her right to privacy
Facebook is being sued by the girl's father for alleged negligence and breaching her right to privacy

Facebook must disclose any available records on the number of underage account holders in Northern Ireland, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mr Justice Gillen held that, if kept, documentation should be supplied for a lawsuit involving a vulnerable schoolgirl user who contacted men and posted sexual photos on the site.

The company is being sued by the girl's father for alleged negligence and breaching her right to privacy.

Under Facebook's policy no-one under 13 is allowed to be a user.

But with the girl now under a care order, lawyers for her father claim an open registration system meant it was too easy for her to set up profiles and be at potential risk from paedophiles.

From the age of 11 she created four different accounts to publish sexually suggestive and inappropriate photos, the court heard.

She received text messages with extreme sexual content from men as a result of her personal details appearing on Facebook, it is alleged.

However, her accounts were deactivated as soon as reports were received by the company.

As part of the ongoing legal action attempts were made to secure more details about the number of underage users reported and identified.

In a detailed judgment Mr Justice Gillen blocked many other requests for more information from Facebook.

But he held that specific discovery should be made on any documentation containing notes and records the company holds on use of its network by children under 13 in Northern Ireland or the UK between 2011 and 2014.

"If the defendants do have them, they should be discovered," he said.

"If they do not have them then obviously they can properly indicate that they do not have such information in their possession, custody or power."

The same ruling was made on a request for details on the number of account holders in Northern Ireland generally.

According to the judge that information appeared relevant to assessing the size of the task confronting Facebook "if taking steps to address the mischief of underage children registering".

The court also heard the company does not retain data on reports of underage users for more than six months.

Countering the claim that no more statistics were available, a lawyer for the girl's father cited an alleged statement by its chief privacy advisor in 2011 that 20,000 people are removed a day for being underage.

Despite recognising the "factual standoff" on the issue, Mr Justice Gillen refused to order Facebook to comply with that request on the basis that it does not have the information.

He added, however: "If it should emerge that the defendant's assertions are unsustainable then at the very least the case may be adjourned in order to compel appropriate replies to the interrogatories with attendant cost consequences."