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German court awards succession rights in deceased's Facebook account

13 July 2018

Germany's highest court has ruled that Facebook should grant a mother access to her dead daughter's account, the agency Agence France-Presse has reported. 

The Federal Constitutional Court held that the daughter's contract with Facebook was part of her estate that passed to the mother, giving her full access to the daughter's account including her posts and private messages.

The deceased daughter was killed by an underground train in 2012 when aged 15. Her mother has fought for years to obtain information that she hopes will shed light on whether the death was an accident or a suicide.

In its ruling the court said that the contract covering a user account with a social network "transferred to the heirs of the original owner of the account", who "have a claim on the network operator for access to the account including communications data".

It upheld a ruling at first instance which was overturned by the appeals court in Berlin, supporting the mother's argument that the contents of the account were equivalent to a private diary or letters. It added that the new GDPR rules did not create an obstacle, as they only protect living people.

At present Facebook only allows either deletion of a deceased person's account, or its conversion into a memorial, allowing others to post condolences but not access to the deceased's private messages.

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