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The end of private communication? GFF files lawsuit against Facebook's automated scanning of Messenger messages

Berlin, July 20 2023 – Today, the Society for Civil Rights (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V. - GFF) and an individual Facebook user have filed a lawsuit against Meta before the Passau district court against Metas practice of scanning private messages send via the Facebook Messenger. Meta bases this practice on a derogation regulation to the e-Privacy Directive. The regulation had been enacted for a period of three years. However, EU lawmakers are already planning on expanding this chat control via a proposed regulation that would even cover encrypted communication. The lawsuit not only seeks to oblige Meta to stop automatically scanning the plaintiff's communication in the future. GFF further hopes for a legal clarification that indiscriminate chat controls are per se unlawful.

Today, digital communication predominantly takes place via private services – through social networks or via email. Those who use them must be able to rely on the confidentiality of these services. “Few people are aware that their communication via Messenger is already monitored without there being any cause of suspicion. At the same time, social network chat features are designed to quickly share even our most intimate thoughts. These thoughts must be safe from the gaze of third parties,” says Jürgen Bering, lawyer at GFF.

The automated chat controls carried out by Meta are not only contrary to the European General Data Protection Regulation, they also violate the right to privacy. In particular, the non-transparent processing and use of data by third parties violates the fundamental right to control one’s own data. While “automated” implies that there are no human beings involved, due to the high error rate, the opposite is the truth. Individuals screen detected messages and therefore inevitably take note of them. This frequently also applies to consensually shared nude photos that have been incorrectly classified by the system.

For the plaintiff Marcel Schneider (name changed), himself a survivor of sexualised violence, it is precisely because of this experience that he demands the confidentiality of his communication: “I had hoped that Facebook would be a place for me to connect with other people that had to face similar experiences. But this is impossible if I have to assume that my messages are read by other people.”

In addition, lawyers and journalists as well as anyone else relying on professional confidentiality are depending on the secrecy of their communication. However, the regulation does not provide for any exceptions for these groups, emphasise Dr. David Albrecht and Lisa Engelbrecht, who represent the plaintiff in court: “The regulation abolishes client confidentiality in many areas. This is a serious threat, especially for victims of abuse and criminal defendants, as confidential communication with their legal advisors is no longer possible. This is incompatible with the rule of law.”

More information on the Chat Control Ordinance can be found at:

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