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Parents Have No Right To Dead Child's Facebook Account, German Court Rules (reuters.com) 218

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A German court rejected a mother's demand on Wednesday that Facebook grant her access to her deceased daughter's account. In the ruling, which overturned a lower court's decision, the Berlin appeals court said the right to private telecommunications extended to electronic communication that was meant only for the eyes of certain people. In the Facebook case, the mother of a 15-year-old who was hit and killed by a subway train in Berlin in 2012 had sought access to her daughter's account to search for clues as to whether the girl had committed suicide. Facebook had refused access to the account, which had been memorialized, meaning it was effectively locked and served as a message board for friends and family to share memories. A regional court in Berlin had ruled in favor of the mother in late 2015, saying that the daughter's contract with Facebook passed to her parents according to German laws on inheritance. It had also said that the girl's right to privacy was not protected because she was a minor and it was up to her parents to protect her rights. The appeals court said on Wednesday that the right to private telecommunications outweighed the right to inheritance, and that the parents' obligation to protect their daughter's rights expired with her death.
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Parents Have No Right To Dead Child's Facebook Account, German Court Rules

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @04:26PM (#54521029)
    but her rights remain?
    • by evolutionary ( 933064 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @04:40PM (#54521115)
      Well, it's a slippery slope legally, especially in Germany who has a better privacy record in recent history than the USA does. The court basically said, this "individual" has their right to privacy and the supercedes the parents. While this may be stretching, it is conceivable that a parent could do ethically/morally questionable actions, like, say Internet abuse using social media tools if parents get automatic rights to all their children's account. In a game as big as the Internet, error on the side of caution is probably the wisest course of action with all risks taken into account.
      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by reboot246 ( 623534 )
        I call it pretty damned cold-hearted. If that's what you want from your government, welcome to it.

        Will the same rules apply to the judges when they lose a minor child? My guess is no.
        • by WillgasM ( 1646719 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @04:50PM (#54521207) Homepage
          You're essentially saying you shouldn't legally be able to take a secret to your grave.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by avandesande ( 143899 )
            Sure you can, you don't write it down or tell anyone your secret.
            • And in this case, the girl didn't tell anyone or apparently write down her password. So it WAS a secret; except to Facebook.

              • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @05:46PM (#54521573) Journal

                The mother actually had the password.
                But after the death of the daughter the account got moved into a "deceased status" and the old log in does not work anymore.

                • The mother actually had the password.
                  But after the death of the daughter the account got moved into a "deceased status" and the old log in does not work anymore.

                  It can be very difficult to actually delete your own facebook account. Following the steps puts it in a suspended mode you can just log into at any time in the future. One must work hard to delete one's facebook account.

                • by mark-t ( 151149 )
                  How do you move a facebook account to a deceased status?
                • So the lesson here is to not tell Facebook when someone you know dies.

          • Not if you're a minor. If it's really that important to you, seek emancipation.

        • by by (1706743) ( 1706744 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @05:03PM (#54521269)

          I call it pretty damned cold-hearted. If that's what you want from your government, welcome to it.

          But, unless I'm misunderstanding the issue, this is also a privacy issue for the deceased's friends. The deceased could very well have had conversations with her peers, conversations which no one wanted the parents to find out about. Facebook has a lot of bi-directional communication, so access to her account = access to things potentially said to her in confidence.

          • If the child was an adult, and entered a contract with Facebook as an adult, I could agree with you.

            Does Germany allow minor children to enter legally binding contracts on their own accord?

            If not, anything that child does is under the permission of their parents, who have legal authority over them, and especially over their estate if they die.

            • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @05:51PM (#54521633) Journal

              Germany has *laws*

              You only have common law, mostly.

              Your question is completely irrelevant to the courts ruling. It has nothing to do with "contract", age or other things.

              The point of the ruling is: protecting the privacy of telecommunication, or secrecy, is a higher good than the parents desire to read the last facebook mails of their daughter.

              The girl was 15 btw. So yes, she can make binding contracts within limits. Especially if they don't cost any money. Without consent of the parents.

              No idea why you life in a 3rd world/middle age law system and want to impose your fucked up law system on us.

              • I understand the point of the ruling, and that the court decided (it seems, on the basis of its opinion rather than strict law) that the privacy of a minor exists even against her parents. That ruling and that opinion is wrong. If the law does agree with the court, the law be damned.
                • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @07:20PM (#54522185) Journal

                  It is not the privacy of the dead girl that is in question but the privacy of her correspondence partners.

                  That law is the law that forbids to open letters, wiretap phones, disclose private conversations you pick up via radio when you are sailing etc.

                  It is basically the other side of the free speech laws ... good luck in getting it "damned".

                • that the privacy of a minor exists even against her parents.

                  The ruling said no such thing. The ruling said that a person has a right to take secrets to their grave. Read the ruling again, a lot of it hinges on the fact that the girl is now deceased.

                • I understand the point of the ruling, and that the court decided (it seems, on the basis of its opinion rather than strict law) that the privacy of a minor exists even against her parents. That ruling and that opinion is wrong. If the law does agree with the court, the law be damned.

                  Well, I'm sorry you don't like the right to privacy. So don't move to Germany and stay in the US, where there is no right to privacy.

              • Germany has *laws*

                Good for you.

                You only have common law, mostly.

                Mostly? You think we don't have an actual written body of laws that have been voted on by Congress and State Legislatures?

                Your question is completely irrelevant to the courts ruling. It has nothing to do with "contract", age or other things.

                Why?

                The point of the ruling is: protecting the privacy of telecommunication, or secrecy, is a higher good than the parents desire to read the last facebook mails of their daughter.

                Okay, now you are simply restating what was stated in the submission. That doesn't tell us why the lower court gave the exact opposite ruling, and the appeals court found reason to overturn that ruling.

                The girl was 15 btw. So yes, she can make binding contracts within limits. Especially if they don't cost any money. Without consent of the parents.

                I'm pretty sure kids can do that in the US too. But if the child dies, the parents are the ones to oversee their 'estate', private messages or not.

                No idea why you life in a 3rd world/middle age law system and want to impose your fucked up law system on us.

                I have to wish to impo

                • The first court followed your argument: the parents inherit the contract.
                  The second court said two things: with the death the contract is finished/void; and even if there was a contract, the right of "private correspondence" (that involves mainly the correspondence partners) is above having access to the account.

                  Is that not written in the summary or linked article? I thought it was, but I had read the german article 10 hours ago already.

        • One of the main arguments of the court which is not mentioned in the summary, is that granting her parents access would violate the privacy of all the people the daughter had contact with. They chatted together under the assumption it was "for her eyes only" and with no way to know it could be read by her parents in the future.

      • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

        I've always heard that the dead have no right to privacy or at least they don't in the US am I understanding correctly that in germany even the dead have a right to privacy?

        • by tsqr ( 808554 )

          I've always heard that the dead have no right to privacy or at least they don't in the US am I understanding correctly that in germany even the dead have a right to privacy?

          You may have always heard that, but it's not completely true. In the US, attorney-client privilege survives the death of the client (Swidler & Berlin v. United States, 524 U.S. 399 (1998)).

          • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

            I mean like diarys, email accounts stuff like that. Here in the states they have no legal protection for the dead IIUC. Is that diffrent In Germany?

            That is still interesting to know about attorney client privilege.

      • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @05:11PM (#54521335) Homepage
        That's not exactly the gist of the ruling. The court decided against the parents, because the conversations of the deceased daughter contain private information of the people she was talking with, and thus are protected by the Secrecy of correspondence.
      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Indeed. Basically the court said that her privacy is more important than her parents being able to snoop through her stuff. (That she is dead is immaterial for her right to privacy.) That may be hard to people from a privacy-challenged country like the US to understand, but I think it has more than a little merit.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @05:03PM (#54521271) Homepage Journal

      At age 15 it's unlikely that her parents could demand access to her Facebook account even if she were alive. Privacy rules in Germany apply to children as well, with more and more allowance for parents the younger they are.

      The age of consent is 14 in Germany. At age 15 she already had a lot of responsibility and privacy under German law.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Yes. Her parents rights are temporary and only founded on the situation of being active as her parents and doing parenting. That is not the case anymore. Her rights are proper rights and do not expire.

  • by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @04:32PM (#54521063)

    I'm not sure about German laws on this topic, but it seems to me that most nations consider the age of 15 to be a minor and that their legal guardians have total control of their possessions, including accounts of this nature. Rights of privacy wouldn't kick in until they are a legal adult.

    I'm sure others will know more about this than me. I'm just starting the conversation...

    • Why would their rights to privacy not count? Like the right to life, security and free speech I don't believe it has an age limit nor needs one.

      • Parents can't rescind their children's right to life, but they sure can rescind their right to go to the beach until their grades improve.

        • but they sure can rescind their right to go to the beach until their grades improve.
          For a limited time, yes.
          But "grounding" a child for an irresponsible time is called "deprivation of liberty" or "illegal restraint". And as the second phrase implies: illegal.

          If your child's grades are not good enough in your opinion you should ask yourself what is wrong instead of grounding it.

          My parents e.g. where to dumb to ever tell me that you can "prepare" for a test/examination. I realized that in my last year of sc

    • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @05:14PM (#54521357) Homepage
      It's not the right of privacy of the daughter, that the ruling was about, it's the right of privacy of the people she was talking to (probably mostly other minors the parents of the daughter were not legal wardens of). And those conversations thus are protected by the Secrecy of correspondence.
      • Fine. Have a court appointed lawyer go through the daughter's messages, only approving of ones that don't interfere with others' right to privacy.

        For all we know that lawyer may find out that the daughter was fascinated by trains and simply wanted to see one up close.
        Whoops, slip, splat.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Good point.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @05:41PM (#54521541)

      And that is wrong from a legal point of view in Germany. There are stages at which people get legal autonomy. For example, at 14 they get religious autonomy and their parents from that time have no legal authority anymore about that question. For example, at 14 you can legally exit a church on your own say-so. People also get economic decision power to some degree at different ages and can do binding contracts up to certain amounts and of certain natures. And no, their stuff does not belong to their parents when it was legally acquired by them.

      Yours is also a hugely immoral stance as you basically advocate that children are their parents property. I find that idea quite repulsive.

      Incidentally, "privacy" is a human right and applies to anybody being recognized as human. It can only be limited because circumstances force that, e.g. for a toddler. But somebody 15 years of age certainly has that human right mostly in its full form.

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @08:24PM (#54522483)

        Yours is also a hugely immoral stance as you basically advocate that children are their parents property. I find that idea quite repulsive.

        That (limited) viewpoint is usually the attitude adopted by legal minors.

        The reality is that this isn't just a rights issue. It's a rights and responsibility issue. I don't know what the situation is in Germany, but in the U.S. the parents are fiscally responsible for their children's misdeeds until they become a legal adult. If a 17-yo drives a car into a store and destroys it in a fit of rage and can't pay for the damages himself, it falls upon the parents to pay for it.

        So it isn't treating children as if they're property, as it is keeping rights and responsibility linked. If a 14-yo wants to be declared legally independent of his or her parents, I don't think most people would have a problem with it as long as he also became financially and criminally responsible for all his deeds as if he were an adult. Unfortunately, the way most teens want it is that they get all the rights of an adult, but their parents still have to bear all the responsibility (including paying for food, clothing, and shelter).

        Without the linking of responsibility to rights, the parents effectively become wage slaves to children who are free to live as they wish. That too is immoral and repulsive. It's why Monsanto's stance with Round-Up Ready seed is immoral. They want all the rights that come with ownership of the patented seed (farmers who use it are forced to pay for it), but none of the responsibility that comes with it (organic farmers who don't want it can't sue them for damages if the seed blows onto their farms).

    • but it seems to me that most nations consider the age of 15 to be a minor and that their legal guardians have total control of their possessions, including accounts of this nature.
      If you mean with "most nations" such nations where parents can marry their minors to each other against their will, then yes.
      If you mean nations that have actually laws, like Europe, then no.

      And the most important thing you seem to miss: the girls is dead.
      There are no parents. There are ex parents.

      The girl has "private correspond

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @04:34PM (#54521079)

    The appeals court said on Wednesday that the right to private telecommunications outweighed the right to inheritance

    The already dead have no personal rights! Only their survivors have rights.
    As for parental rights.... most of what the Child would have had in terms of possessions, online accounts, etc. would be the parent's property,
    since children are not usually capable of acquiring their own computers, Etc, they use property purchased by the parent, under mutually agreed conditions.
    There's nothing to inherit, if the Parent held title to all property and accounts in the first place.

    and that the parents' obligation to protect their daughter's rights expired with her death.

    What rights? Again, the dead have no ability to assert personal rights, and no rights to be protected.
    Only their survivors have rights, which are theirs, and not the dead person's.

    • the dead have no ability to assert personal rights

      No, no! Rights simply exist; they don't have to be asserted.

    • by c ( 8461 )

      There's nothing to inherit, if the Parent held title to all property and accounts in the first place.

      Property, sure. Accounts... are they really personal property?

      It seems to me that they're the property of the service provider. You've got certain rights to that property (privacy, etc) in some jurisdictions, and you (probably) own the copyrights to any content you've created with the account, but everything else comes down to the terms of service with the provider. Which may or may not allow the parents of

      • There's nothing to inherit, if the Parent held title to all property and accounts in the first place.

        Property, sure. Accounts... are they really personal property?

        Do you have a bank account. If so, is it your property?

        After all, it's not like you go into the bowels of the bank and unlock a numbered vault to reveal piles of gold coins left to you by your parents before their death.

        • by c ( 8461 )

          Do you have a bank account. If so, is it your property?

          Hmm... interesting point.

          The "account" itself isn't. It's a bunch of meta-data and transaction history rather than anything that can be transferred around in a tangible fashion.

          The funds held in the account are certainly property, virtual or otherwise. But access to financial assets of an estate have a whole host of estate laws behind it, while access to other kinds of virtual assets... not so much.

          I suppose that the writings in an online account could

          • That's an interesting take on the issue, unpublished works.

          • writings in an online account could be considered unpublished works under copyright law

            No, they can't. How could they? "Unpublished" means "it's sitting in a drawer", not "it's just on a web page, no big deal".

      • Great point. Since the information she entered into the application is the only product that Facebook produces and sells, all of that information must belong to Facebook. If it did not, the could not turn it into cash like they do.

        Case in point: if Facebook decided while she was alive to cut off her account not only would she not have access to her details on Facebook's servers, but Facebook could also continue to monetize the information she put onto their system indefinitely. That certainly appears as i

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        Property, sure. Accounts... are they really personal property?

        Yes, Accounts represent the service provided to a person, and their
        successors have the rights to the former person's persona, for example, if
        the person owned a store and the persona was used to conduct business, the
        Facebook account might have been used to solicit and communicate with customers,
        the person in charge of the deceased's estate has the right to continue to conduct
        or see to the contact or continuity/transfer of business under th

    • What about the deceased's (living) friends? They presumably had private communications with her, too -- should that privacy be breached now that she is dead?
      • It doesn't have to be. Have the court appoint a lawyer to review the girl's messages, approving for release of only those relating to the parents question of suicide.

        Courts invade privacy all the time. They just do it on their terms. This would not be unusual at all.

        • by ffkom ( 3519199 )
          Such would not be necessary: The police already did officially investigate the death of that girl, and the police would have had the possibility to look into her Facebook based communication-

          The result of the police investigation, however, was that her death was an accident - a result that her parents obviously are not willing to accept.
        • by Sique ( 173459 )
          Why should the other parties of the conversation in question even agree with a lawyer sifting through their conversation? They still have the right to Secrecy of their communications even if the other side of the conversation is dead. The court saw no necessity to do that as the parents couldn't sufficiently argue that there is enough evidence that the conversation may contain any vital information about the future death of their daughter.

          (Beside that there is the question who should pay for the lawyer wh

        • Have the court appoint a lawyer to review the girl's messages, approving for release of only those relating to the parents question of suicide.
          The parents did not ask for that.

          They asked for access in their person.

          Why should the court deny the request and then install a lawyer? That is not how law works. Not in your country. And not in my country.

          If they want a lawyer to have access to examine under vow of keeping everything private, just to figure if there are suicidal texts: then they should ask for prec

          • I'm simply stating that there are ways the court could decide to preserve the right to privacy, while still seeing if the parents claim have any validity. Claiming that it can't happen because that isn't what the parents asked the court for is simply short sighted. Because if that is your argument, what would you say if the parents then went back to the court asking for exactly such a solution?

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      The rights of the people the daughter was having conversations with. As the parents are no legal wardens of those people (probably mostly minors of the daughter's age), they have no right to look into their conversations.
      • If the parents found a stack of letters in their daughter's room, from several of her friends, are saying the parents have to right to read those letters?

        • by Sique ( 173459 )
          While the parents have a right to look into the letters their daughter received as long as the letters are still available, they have no right to the letters their daugther sent. They can't just go around and subpoena others to reveal those letters.
          • That's the opposite argument from what I am being told is the court decision, and of the people supporting that decision.

            Physical letters found after a child died contain the comments of other people to that daughter. Those are the comments that are being held sacrosanct in this discussion, moreso than the comments of the dead child sent as letters to others. Very few are arguing that parents couldn't be allowed to read a diary left by a deceased child.

        • Depending on age: they have no right to read the letters. How dumb are you?
          Now as she is deceases: most certainly they don't have the right to read the letters, regardless how old she was before she died.
          Your stupid questions are actually no brainers and only show from what a fucked up culture you come regarding privacy and how to tread children.

          Would anyone care if parents read the letters of their deceased children? Most likely not, but that was not your question nor implication.

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        The rights of the people the daughter was having conversations with.

        If they posted it on Facebook, then same as E-mail. The internet protocol message is a telecom, but It stops being a telecommunication as soon as it arrives at the destination and the recipient has the choice to delete it or keep it/file it away and doesn't choose to delete it; it's a delivered piece of correspondence that the recipient has the ability to share with anyone.

        It's a fact that if you put something in writing and file i

        • by Sique ( 173459 )
          This is only valid for the letters you received, not for the letters you sent. The parents have no rights to any letter the daughter sent to someone else.
          • Except that the electronic "sent item" is also retained by the sender - a carbon copy of a paper letter, retained in a file, is a direct analogue of the message sent electronically and stored in "sent". So if I create a paper letter, which I photocopy, or scan and store electronically, or I write on paper and duplicate with carbon paper, and I retain the copy while sending the original; surely my estate includes those copies, and it is up to the executor or beneficiary to read, dispose or otherwise?
  • That's messed up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @04:49PM (#54521197)

    It seems to me like what the courts actually decided is that, when your child dies, Facebook has more rights to their personal property than you do.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by avandesande ( 143899 )
      Really that sums it up- facecuck is making money off her 'tribute' page
    • It seems to me like what the courts actually decided is that, when your child dies, Facebook has more rights to their personal property than you do.

      Well, to be fair, the child gave that information to Facebook, and didn't give it to the parents. If the child's intent still has any force after death (and I'm not sure if it does; I'm inclined to say that it shouldn't), then the court arguably just deferred to that intent.

      • hen the court arguably just deferred to that intent.
        No, the court is simply reading the book of law and stating what is written under "privacy of correspondence".

        • hen the court arguably just deferred to that intent. No, the court is simply reading the book of law and stating what is written under "privacy of correspondence".

          Which means they deferred to the will of the child, the owner of the correspondence. Or, if you prefer, that the law defers to the will of the child, the owner of the correspondence.

    • by ffkom ( 3519199 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @06:38PM (#54521937)
      When your child dies, then the living people who communicated with your child retain their right of communication privacy, and your curiousity as a parent does not quite outweigh that right.

      Imagine how pissed you would be if your girl-friend is run over by a truck and immediately afterwards, her parents are starting to read (and possibly circulate) all the juicy details of your prior conversations.
    • How do you come to that brain dead idea?

      Facebook has no right ... or its employees ... to read the messages on that account either.

    • Yes, it is messed up, it should either:
      - Parents become legal owners of the account and do what they please
      - Nobody "owns" the account and therefore FB MUST delete all of it

      What else can it be that is not a big brother FB looming over you ?

    • Facebook has more rights to their personal property than you do

      No, they decided that someone I gave my rights to has more rights than someone I didn't. Unless my Facebook account is in my will, why should my parents get access to it after I pass?

  • Was this judge paid off or just pathologically incompetent?

  • Letting go (Score:5, Insightful)

    by seoras ( 147590 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2017 @07:17PM (#54522171)

    It's not really a legal issue but the very sad case of a mother unwilling to let go of her child and what remains of the child's life.
    I'm a father and I think I'd probably struggle to let go of anything of a life that I had created, loved and cared for.
    A virtual online persona, in this case, has become the bedroom of the deceased that the mother wants to lock, preserve and occasionally visit when the grieving gets tough.
    If, like someone else commented, she had the password for the account she's almost certainly already been through it looking for answers.
    Some very good insightful comments on here from others about needing to protect the privacy of the living who were friends.
    Still my heart goes out to the family.

  • Maybe it's just me, but I've been seeing this theme popping up over and over again over the last couple of weeks, seemingly starting with the FB fined for running afoul of privacy laws..... I bet FB has some of the highest paid, and most effective PR people on the planet.

  • So, if their daughter had a diary that had a lock on it, they would be barred from ever opening it? It seems strange that a dead minor has more rights to something than her parents do.

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