WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s privacy commissioner said Wednesday that Facebook broke the law by not releasing information to a man who wanted to know what others were saying about him on the social network.
Commissioner John Edwards said Facebook refused the man access to personal information that was held on the accounts of several Facebook users. Edwards said the company claimed it wasn’t bound by New Zealand’s privacy laws and didn’t have to comply with a request from his office to take a look at the disputed information.
Facebook said Edwards had made a “broad and intrusive” request for private data, and that the company was protecting its users.
“We are disappointed that the New Zealand privacy commissioner asked us to provide access to a year’s worth of private data belonging to several people and then criticized us for protecting their privacy,” the company said in a statement.
The commissioner’s finding allows the man to seek financial damages against Facebook. The man wasn’t named and it wasn’t immediately clear whether he would pursue damages.
The case also raises jurisdictional questions. Edwards said Facebook should comply by New Zealand laws but the company was arguing it’s not bound by them because its operation is based in Ireland.
Edwards said Facebook has 2.5 million users in New Zealand, about half of the nation’s population, and that it takes money from New Zealand businesses.
“We don’t believe there’s any credible question that it’s operating in New Zealand and is subject to New Zealand laws,” he said.
Facebook didn’t address the jurisdictional question in its statement.
The company said it had investigated the man’s complaint but hadn’t got enough detail to resolve it. Facebook said it scrutinized all requests to disclose personal data, particularly the contents of private messages, and would continue to challenge those that were too broad.
“We have a long history of working with the commissioner, and we will continue to request information that will help us investigate this complaint further,” the company said.
One course of action for Facebook would be to challenge the commissioner’s findings in court. The company did not immediately respond to questions about whether it would pursue legal action.