Without bothering to detail why, a U.S. district judge in California on Monday barred the public from a hearing in the ongoing dispute between Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and the backers of ConnectU, a rival social network.
Reporters from CNET News.com, the San Jose Mercury News and Bloomberg protested judge James Ware’s decision. Closure is uncommon in federal civil cases and may only be done if first, the press and public are given the chance to object and second, the judge specifies reasons for the closure.
According to CNET News.com, neither Facebook nor ConnectU formally asked the judge for closure; rather, Ware simply announced it would be "beneficial to the court."
The hearing was the latest in a drawn-out lawsuit filed in 2004 by ConnectU’s creators, former Harvard University classmates of Zuckerberg’s who claimed he stole ideas and a source code from them to create Facebook.
The case was settled a few months ago. But ConnectU now claims Zuckerberg entered the agreement "fraudulently" and wants the case reopened.
Technology blogger Declan McCullagh of CNET News.com wrote that the judge’s decision may have been based on sensitive information contained in Zuckerberg’s old instant messenger logs. McCullagh noted it is unusual to seal so many documents.
ConnectU had requested the judge limit information under seal.