D.C. prosecutor presses bid to question Facebook CEO in data privacy lawsuit

FILE PHOTO: Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company's use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
  • D.C. attorney general contends Mark Zuckerberg "took public responsibility" for events at heart of case
  • Facebook's lawyers at Gibson Dunn said D.C.'s bid an "attempt to harass"

(Reuters) - Meta Platforms Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg should be required to answer questions about Facebook's data privacy practices, the Washington, D.C., attorney general's office argued in a new court filing stemming from a lawsuit the city filed in 2018 against the social media company.

Lawyers for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in the filing on Feb. 15 that Facebook had not taken steps to arrange for Zuckerberg's deposition despite a District of Columbia Superior Court judge allowing the questioning in a Jan. 10 order.

Facebook's lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher subsequently asked the judge on Feb. 1 to block Zuckerberg's deposition, arguing he has "no unique information" to offer and that the District's effort was a "transparent attempt to harass." The District's filing urged D.C. Superior Court Judge Maurice Ross to direct the deposition to proceed.

The quarrel over Zuckerberg's questioning presents a fresh examination of the "apex doctrine," which can shield high-level executives on the basis they did not have control over information central to a lawsuit.

A Gibson Dunn lawyer for Facebook, Robert Hur, did not immediately return a message on Tuesday seeking comment. A Facebook representative did not immediately return a similar request.

The D.C. attorney general's office declined to comment.

The District's lawsuit accuses Facebook of misleading its users about who had access to personal data. The Menlo Park, California-based Facebook came under scrutiny in 2018 over allegations that defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica duped consumers about the collection of information on the social network.

The District's lawyers said in their new court filing that they want to talk to Zuckerberg to "probe his and the company's knowledge about Cambridge Analytica's actions and his decision to act or, as the case was, fail to act upon learning about it."

The District said it was willing to take Zuckerberg's deposition in his office "if he so chooses."

The case is District of Columbia v. Facebook Inc, District of Columbia Superior Court, No. 2018-CA-008715B.

For D.C.: Jimmy Rock of the D.C. Attorney General's Office; and lawyers from Edelson

For Facebook: Joshua Lipshutz and Robert Hur of Gibson, Dunn Crutcher

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