Parents Can't Be Forced to Produce Dead Son's Facebook Data

By Jeff Day

Dec. 3 — The federal government may not force the parents of a deceased federal employee to produce the decedent's Facebook account information during pretrial discovery, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled Dec. 2.

The government sought, during pretrial discovery in a wrongful death action, an order compelling the parents to obtain their dead son's text messages and other Facebook account information. Magistrate Judge Sandra M. Snyder denied the government's request, finding that the parents lacked authorization to access the account.

The government lost an earlier attempt to acquire postings directly.

The government wanted almost three years of their son's Facebook postings, as well as five months of his text messages. The government asserted that as his legal heirs, the parents a legal right to his postings.

The court rejected this argument, stating that Facebook's terms of service and the federal Stored Communications Act make it clear that heirs do not have a right to deceased persons' Facebook accounts or text messages, unless the decedent expressly consented to disclosure.

The government failed to “show that Plaintiffs have possession or can obtain the decedent's text messages and Facebook communication for the requested time period,” the court said.

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