Facebook told to axe illegal posts

Facebook told to axe illegal posts

Social media giant gets 4-day deadline

Thai authorities have given Facebook four days to remove the remaining 131 pages on its site deemed illegal by local courts or face legal action for violating Thai law.

May 16 at 10am is the deadline for the US social media giant to remove the pages ruled illicit or its Thai arm and partners will face legal action, Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), warned yesterday.

However, the government may not necessarily have the authority to take legal action against the Facebook unit in Thailand, according to a legal expert.

The order came after a meeting yesterday between the Digital Economy and Society Ministry and the NBTC.

Representatives from the Thai Internet Service Provider Association (Tispa), which is responsible for 95% of internet traffic in the country, and the Technology Crime Suppression Division as well as the Royal Thai Army also participated in the meeting.

"Every person [in the country] must comply with Thai laws, and strictly follow rulings by local courts," Mr Takorn said.

Facebook recently told the Bangkok Post that the company agreed to comply with the government's request to restrict local access to content on its site found to be in violation of the country's laws, particularly the lese majeste law.

A Facebook representative said if the company finds the content does indeed violate local laws, it will make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory and notify people who try to access it as to why it is restricted.

Mr Takorn said on behalf of the Tispa that Facebook has already removed 178 of the 309 pages on the court's list.

However, he said 131 pages are still up on Facebook's local content delivery network and no reason has been provided for why it is still granting local Facebook users access to them.

"Facebook must either remove the remaining 131 pages by Tuesday morning or face legal action," Mr Takorn said.

The ministry and the NBTC will meet with representatives of Tispa at its office on Tuesday to monitor whether the remaining pages can still be accessed.

"If even a single illicit page remains, we will immediately discuss what legal steps to take against Facebook Thailand," Mr Takorn said.

He said the ministry would be the main state authority to implement such action. If necessary it will file a complaint with the police against Facebook Thailand and related parties for violating Thai court orders and the Computer Crime Act.

Mr Takorn also said the NBTC would have to call in representatives from Facebook Thailand to discuss whether the company had failed to comply with the authorities' order.

Dhiraphol Suwanprateep, partner for information technology and communications at the international law firm Baker & McKenzie, said if the government takes legal action against Facebook Thailand it must first establish that Facebook Thailand is a full branch office of Facebook.

"If Facebook Thailand was registered as a representative office, it cannot be sued as it's a separate entity from the US office. It has no power to control the illegal [Facebook] content," he said.

The government faces complications in suing local ISPs as they were not responsible for the illegal content, he said.

"It can only press charges against the ISPs ... if it has proof they ignored the order to remove the illegal content," he added.

From a technical perspective, it is very hard for an ISP to know where those URLs or pages which contain the illegal content are located, experts say.

Normally, ISPs do not have control over data management. They are responsible for traffic flow. They do not own the content and they are not responsible for uploading the content whether illegal or not.

"Forcing local ISPs to handle illegal content is not practical as they do not have the full capability to monitor and remove content. Under internationally recognised principles, ISPs are merely intermediaries and are exempt from charges in regard to illegal content under safe-harbour principles," said Mr Dhirapol.

If a government needs to block all illegal content, they will have to use the China model to shut down the entire Facebook service. The question is whether they have any alternatives for users, he said.

"The government plans to visit the premises of ISPs and international internet gateways [IIGs] to investigate illegal content next week. We hope to see due process during the investigation. An investigation on private premises must be conducted carefully and in line with procedure under Thai law," he said.

Meanwhile, Maj Gen Ritthi Intharawut, director of the Army Cyber Centre (ACC), said that abuses of the lese majeste law online have dropped significantly as a result of hard work by several agencies monitoring and suppressing this type of crime.

Parties cooperating with the ACC in tackling this are the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Department of Special Investigation and the mass media, he said.

Since its inauguration last October, the centre has identified a total of 820 cases of activities affecting the monarchy, 365 of which were committed via Facebook, 450 on YouTube and five on Twitter, he said.

Of these, 435 cases have been blocked, 111 are in the process of being blocked and the other 274 have only recently been detected, he said.

In April, 120 more cases were detected, he said. Seven people were found to be responsible but they were abroad, he said, adding that only in 18 cases were those responsible not identified.

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