Reformers to demand censorship from Facebook, Line

Reformers to demand censorship from Facebook, Line

Executives of the giant social media outlets Facebook and Line have been called to a meeting by the national reform assembly over monitoring and removing content considered a security threat to Thailand.

The meeting called by the assembly's media reform committee follows a similar one with Google executives on Jan 22 in which they were asked to remove content without a court order.

The committee has acknowledged calling next month's meeting with the Facebook and Line executives. It will go ahead despite the embarrassment over a leaked document detailing the meeting with the Google executives.

A document circulated on social media on Wednesday night by activists said the committee had asked Google to expedite the removal of “illegal” or “unconstructive” content, as well as information “seeking to destroy the Thai monarchy”.

Previously, a court order was needed to shut down websites that breached the law. However, the document said there are cases that need urgent attention and authorities could not afford to wait for the court.

The leaked document states that Google refused to budge, citing adherence to its worldwide policy which says content can only be removed after the company receives a legal order from a court.

Activists campaigning for internet freedom have slammed the committee’s move as an attempt by the junta to control the internet.

“The Media Reform Committee’s demand not only violates international standards but Thai laws too,” said Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of the Thai Netizens Network advocacy group.

Under the Computer Crime Act, if internet users post content suspected of violating the law, any accusations against them must be verified by a court before action is taken, Mr Arthit said.

That means the committee’s demand denies Thai citizens their right to access the judicial process and violates freedom of expression and the right to access information.

He said that like the government’s single internet gateway, the committee aims to circumvent court procedures and allow authorities to rapidly shut down content.

Netizens on bulletin boards also said the demand on Google was an indication of a broader plan to tighten the junta's grip on the internet and boost state surveillance.

Last year the government pushed through a series of bills intended to enhance Thailand’s digital economy. The draft laws, to be considered by the National Legislative Assembly, have drawn loud criticism from rights advocates who fear internet privacy will be violated.

The laws include the revised Cyber Crime Act and the new Cyber Security Act, which Mr Arthit said was akin to “online martial law”.

Current data encryption prevents authorities from screening and removing specific content. If they wish to block access, they must either shut down the whole domain, which would create a public outcry, or ask for assistance from platform owners such as Google or Facebook.

Mr Arthit said the social media giants would not agree, so the government was trying to bypass data encryption, in order to monitor, screen and target particular content and remove it.

In December 2014, activists uncovered a letter from the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology ordering experts to devise ways to intercept encrypted information. Wikileaks revealed the ministry last year hired the services of Hacking Team, an Italian firm which provides tools for collecting private data.

Apichart Jongskul, a spokesman for the Media Reform Committee, said the leaked Google document was real. But he claimed it contradicted the talks between the committee and Google.

He said the committee was not trying to circumvent judicial procedures. It simply asked Google to speed up content removal after a court order was sent.

Facebook and Line would be treated the same.

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