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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Thursday, August 17, 2017

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Facebook faces ban, if it fails to remove content deemed national security threat

A Thai ultimatum

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BANGKOK, Thailand - Authorities in Thailand, that had issued an ultimatum to social media giant Facebook, setting a Tuesday deadline for the company to remove insulting content from its platform - have now threatened a ban.> BNN

Authorities stated last week that Facebook had failed to remove 131 web addresses on its platform which threatened security or insulted the monarchy.

Post a warning by Thai authorities to take down the specified content, Facebook Thailand was threatened with legal action by the telecoms regulator that said the content is deemed threatening to national security or is in violation of the strict lese majeste laws.

The secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission of Thailand said last week that the ministry of digital economy would file a complaint with police to press charges against Facebook Thailand under the Computer Crime Act and commerce ministry regulations.

However, since the social network has failed to abide by the deadline, Thailand has now threatened to ban Facebook unless the specified content is removed.

The Telecoms regulator has said that while there was no immediate plan to block access to Facebook, it expects the social media giant to comply with court orders for the removal of content deemed to threaten national security.

Soon after the threat was issued last week, a flurry of concern rose in the South East Asian country, which is considered one of Asia's most active on Facebook.

Addressing reporters on Tuesday, Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of Thailand's telecoms commission said that bureaucracy had held up the process of removing the 131 impugned content items.

Takorn, who visited the head office of a grouping of internet providers in Thailand, to check if Facebook had complied with the authorities’ removal request said post the visit, “We have the necessary documents from the court to block 34 URLs now. Facebook has cooperated well in terms of taking steps to block the URLs that we asked them to in the past. If they cooperate, then there will be 97 URLs left which we have asked the court to issue warrants to block.”

Facebook has not made any official comments so far - expect pointing out that its general guideline on receiving government requests to remove content is to determine whether the material violates local laws before restricting access.

In 2016, the social media giant blocked 50 pieces of content found to have violated the lese majeste law, following government requests.

Further, according to government figures, Thailand's criminal court has ordered nearly 7,000 "inappropriate" web pages be shut down since 2015.

While internet service providers were able to block access to most of these pages, about 600 of them could not be shut down due to encryption. 

Officials had pointed out that more than half of these pages were on Facebook. 

Morakot Kulthamyothin, president of the Thai Internet Service Provider Association (TISPA) told reporters, there was no plan to block access yet.

Kulthamyothin said, “We haven't discussed that action to shut down Facebook.”

TISPA, that groups 19 landline and mobile ISPs and international gateway operators covering 90 percent of Thailand, added that all 131 sites were still accessible after the deadline expired on Tuesday.

Thailand has some of the world’s strictest laws protecting the royal family from public criticism.

Since seizing power in a 2014 coup, Thailand’s military government has ramped up online censorship, mainly those that are perceived insults to monarchy.

Since then, thousands of websites have been blocked, and those caught sharing, or even liking Facebook posts that are deemed unflattering to the monarchy have been prosecuted.

The Article 112 of the country's criminal code says that anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent" will be punished with up to 15 years in prison.

However, according to Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University, who is one of the one of the three critics, the junta's latest attempt to block content would not achieve much.

Pavin said in a statement to Reuters, “The government will achieve little from the current ban. If Facebook complies, it will be condemned by the international community. If Facebook ignores the request, then I guess the government will prove to the public that it is serious about this - expect more arrests of those who follow me.”

In July 2016, the UN Human Rights Council declared access to the internet to be a human right.

The UN's rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye has also encouraged companies to "push back" when states request a block on web pages.

In a recent interview, Kaye said, “They should ask questions so they don't just do it right off the bat. They need to make the countries explain themselves at the very least, to mitigate the risk."

Previously, Kaye has criticised the Thai authorities for using lese majeste laws "as a political tool to stifle critical speech.”

 

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