Facebook Resists Handing Over Documents in Genocide Probe
Rohingya people wait in line for supplies provided by the UNHCR at the Balukhali Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Photographer: Ismail Ferdous/Bloomberg)

Facebook Resists Handing Over Documents in Genocide Probe

Facebook Inc. is locked in a legal tussle with the West African country The Gambia over whether to hand over company documents that could aid in an international investigation of genocide in Myanmar.

In a filing in federal court in Washington on Tuesday, The Gambia argued that the privacy protections Facebook has cited in refusing to turn over the documents should not apply to the government of Myanmar. The dispute stems from charges The Gambia filed in the International Court of Justice last year accusing Myanmar of perpetrating genocide against its Muslim minority, the Rohingya.

The dispute over the documents is the latest installment in a long-running public debate over whether Facebook and other social media platforms do enough to prevent bad actors from using their platforms to cause harm. In June, The Gambia asked a judge in Washington to allow it to subpoena documents from Facebook showing how top officials in Myanmar used the platform to incite violence, including any records from internal company investigations. Facebook argued that it couldn’t provide the documents because of a federal law protecting the privacy and free-speech rights of internet users.

“Granting The Gambia’s application would result in a subpoena with which Facebook could not lawfully comply,” the company wrote in a filing this month.

But The Gambia said in its response on Tuesday that the law Facebook cited does not protect foreign government employees like the officials in Myanmar. “Congress did not intend to protect the privacy interests of foreign governments and their actors, much less foreign genocidal government actors,” the filing said.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company was working with an investigative body established by the United Nations to lawfully provide data it preserved for international proceedings involving Myanmar.

The role of Facebook in the genocide in Myanmar is well established. A 2018 report commissioned by Facebook found that the platform was used to incite violence against the Rohingya. That August, Facebook banned 20 organizations and individuals in Myanmar, including a military commander.

In a statement accompanying the report, a Facebook executive said, “We can and should do more.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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