German Supreme Court: content of the deceased’s Facebook

Jul

12

2018

account belongs to inheritance
The content of a deceased person’s Facebook account belongs to his legacy and the social network must give heirs access. The German counterpart of the Supreme Court determined this in a case of parents after the death of their daughter in 2012.

The highest court in Germany, the Bundesgerichtshof, ruled that there is no reason to approach digital communication differently after a death than analogue communication. “Analog documents such as diaries and personal letters are inherited, and from a legal perspective there is no reason to treat digital content differently,” according to the Bundesgerichtshof.

Facebook did not want to release the contents of a deceased girl’s account, although the parents could login with the password. The account was already on ‘In Memoriam’. According to Facebook, the release of data would violate the privacy of the girl and users who communicated with her on Facebook. The Bundesgerichtshof dismissed this, because this is the same as with analogue communication. As far as the girl is concerned, the privacy legislation does not apply, because it only concerns living people.

The German judgment has no direct consequences for the case law in the Netherlands, but the Bundesgerichtshof has checked the implications against the European privacy regulation AVG, which began earlier this year. The girl died in 2012 in an accident with the metro. The parents wanted to check whether they were running suicide plans on the basis of Facebook communication. Meanwhile, users on Facebook can indicate who they want to control about their account and the associated content after their death.

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