The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea was highly critical of Facebook in a report, saying that the social network refused its requests for information on the accounts of users suspected of involvement in piracy, and Facebook responded that it was under no legal obligation to comply with those requests.

According to AP, a report by the monitoring group said that while other companies assisted it in investigations of piracy, al-Qaida, and government corruption, Facebook refused to cooperate, adding:

Despite repeated official correspondence addressed to Facebook Inc., it has never responded to monitoring group requests to discuss information on Facebook accounts belonging to individuals involved in hijackings and hostage-taking.

Facebook replied in an email to AP that the monitoring group had no legal authority to make its requests, saying:

We therefore declined their request and referred them to law enforcement authorities.

The subject is a sensitive one at Facebook of late, in light of its reported involvement in the National Security Agency’s Prism initiative.

Matt Bryden, a former coordinator of the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, told AP he understood Facebook’s reluctance to cooperate, saying:

Facebook has faced such pressures relating to privacy and the use of account information in various jurisdictions, even just for marketing purposes, that I would expect them to be very cautious about sharing personal information, even with a U.N. monitoring group.

AP even spoke with two Somali pirates, who cast doubt on whether any incriminating information would be found on Facebook in the first place.

Bile Hussein, Somali pirate commander in Gracad, a pirate base in central Somalia, told AP:

There are more personal accounts than general ones for the pirates. We use emails for deals.

And Hassan Abdi, another pirate, told AP:

Many of us keep our distance away from the Internet to avoid getting tracked or captured.

Washington, D.C.-based attorney Bradley Shear, who runs a blog that focuses on social media law, agreed that Facebook was under no legal obligation to cooperate with the U.N., telling AP via email that the social network is not legally culpable for the use of its service by pirates, and adding:

In general, absent knowledge that illegal activity is occurring on your platform, social/digital media platforms have little legal liability for the illegal activity that is occurring on their websites. However, there is a growing trend to hold social media/digital media operators accountable for the illegal content/activity on their websites if they turn a blind eye towards it.

Readers: Should Facebook have cooperated with the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, or was protecting its users’ personal information the proper move?

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