1132 GMT August 19, 2019
In a suburban courtroom in Silicon Valley – far from the jurisdiction of Westminster – Judge V. Raymond Swope attempted to deal with the legal fallout from an extraordinary maneuver by the UK parliament, which last week seized highly confidential internal Facebook documents from Ted Kramer, founder of Six4Three, a former startup, theguardian.com reported.
How Kramer, who has been pursuing a protracted legal battle against Facebook, came to provide those documents to Damian Collins, chair of the parliamentary committee that has been investigating Facebook over fake news, was under dispute as Facebook and Six4Three’s attorneys squared off Friday afternoon.
“What has happened is unconscionable,” Swope said from the bench.
“It shocks the conscience. And your conduct is not well taken by this court.”
Swope ordered Kramer to hand over his laptop, cellphone and passwords to a forensic investigator and ordered Thomas Scaramellino, a member of the Six4Three legal team who was also an investor in the company, to provide his devices for document preservation.
The documents given to parliament were produced as part of a lawsuit filed by Six4Three over allegations of anticompetitive practices by Facebook.
The lawsuit, filed in 2015, alleged that Facebook encouraged developers to create platforms within its system by implying they would have long-term access to personal user data and then later removed this access. Facebook has been fighting for months to prevent the release of internal documents related to the case.
Collins invoked a rare parliamentary power compelling Kramer to turn over the documents while the American was in London earlier this month.
According to a court filing by Kramer’s attorneys, the Six4Three executive initially sought to comply with the US judge’s seal, but “panicked” after he was told that he was in “contempt of Parliament” and could be fined or imprisoned. At that point, Kramer allegedly provided Collins’ staff with a USB drive containing documents that he claimed were accidentally left in a Dropbox folder on his computer.
Facebook’s attorneys expressed disbelief at Kramer’s version of events, pointing out Kramer had been in communication with Collins and his committee prior to traveling to the UK.
“After coordinating for weeks with the DCMS committee, Mr. Kramer traveled to the United Kingdom with documents he never should have had in the first place on his laptop for some unspecified business and checked into a hotel 1500ft away from parliament,” said Sonal Mehta, an attorney for Facebook.
“He voluntarily went the 1500ft to parliament, showed up unannounced, and asked to see a member of parliament. He brought with him the confidential documents on his laptop and a thumb drive.”
The original complaint alleged that Mark Zuckerberg created a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to force rival firms out of business and exploit users’ personal data.
One key allegation is that Facebook allowed certain companies to maintain access to user data in exchange for increased spending on Facebook ads. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that some other redacted papers appeared to support that allegation.
Six4Three lawyers have also raised questions about Facebook’s exploitation of user privacy, citing the Cambridge Analytica scandal.