May 5, 2017 1:20 am JST

Thailand asks Facebook to block posts it deems illegal

Regulator calls on social media giant to respect 'sacred' laws

YUKAKO ONO, Nikkei staff writer

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, has found in Thailand an authoritarian regime that wants help censoring content beyond its sovereign reach. © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Facebook has failed to block "inappropriate posts" according to Thailand's telecoms regulator, which on Thursday called on the U.S. social media giant to respect the kingdom's "sacred" laws.

On the instructions of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), Thai internet service providers recently sent Facebook a list of posts and pages that Thai courts have ordered be taken down since 2015.

"We informed the overseas social media operator [Facebook] that certain posts are illegal according to the Thai law and we want their cooperation to delete them," Takorn Tantasith, the NBTC secretary general told reporters in Bangkok.

Thai courts have ruled some 6,900 social media posts illegal on the grounds that they insult the monarchy, threaten national security, contain sexual content, or promote gambling. Of these, 600 are still accessible and 300 are on Facebook, according to the Thai Internet Service Provider Association. These include posts by Thais and others residing outside Thailand.

"All service providers, such as Line, Instagram and YouTube, have been cooperating with us quite well -- all except for one," said an association official. "We need Facebook to understand and respect our sacred laws."

Thai internet service providers used to block certain Facebook posts by themselves to comply with court orders, but since last year Facebook's encryption upgrades have made this more difficult.

Somsak Khaosuwan, the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, said Facebook's response was to request "supporting evidence" on how the posts in question violate Thai law. "They said that it is not against their own terms of use, so they need clearer information on how it violates our laws."

Since seizing power in a coup in May 2014, the ruling junta has stepped up online censorship and cracked down on all forms of dissent. There have been a number of cases of detention or imprisonment of individuals for sharing online posts.

Following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October, and the accession of his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, critics of the monarchy have come under more pressure. Thailand has long had the harshest lese-majeste law in the world with punishment of up to 15 years in jail -- and in some cases consecutive terms.

Last month, the junta threatened sanctions against anyone contacting or distributing posts by three prominent critics of the regime who all live abroad.

On May 24, an amended version of the controversial 2007 Computer Crimes Act is due to come into effect. It enables state agencies to obtain users' traffic data from internet service providers without court approval. Websites that are deemed to "threaten national security" can be closed down, but critics say that what constitutes such a threat is often open to question.

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