The daughter (identified only as "L.W.") was 15 when she was struck and killed by a train in 2012. Her mother tried to gain access to her Facebook account, in particular, to see if her daughter had expressed any suicidal thoughts, but her account had already been memorialized making the user data inaccessible.
The mother brought the case against Facebook to the high court, and on Thursday it ruled that personal Facebook data can be inherited, thereby giving her the right to access her daughter's Facebook messages.
Although the court recognised that Facebook data is highly sensitive personal information, it found that it is no different to physical diaries or letters, which can be inherited by a person's estate after their death. A copy of the initial ruling was published on KV Legal's website, the law firm that represented the mother.
Facebook, however, is not content with the ruling.
"We empathise with the family. At the same time, Facebook accounts are used for a personal exchange between individuals which we have a duty to protect," a Facebook spokeswoman told Business Insider.
"While we respectfully disagree with the decision by the FCJ, the lengthy process shows how complex the issue under discussion is. We will be analysing the judgment to assess its full implications."
The full judgement has not yet been delivered, so it is uncertain exactly how or whether Facebook will be able to oppose the ruling.
It is not the first time this year that Facebook has lost a legal battle over the data of a deceased individual. In June, a British high court ordered Facebook to reveal why the profile of jazz musician was deleted six months after his death.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. Lifeline (0861 322 322) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.
Receive a single email every morning with all our latest news: Sign up here.
Also from Business Insider South Africa: