Investigation exposes Microsoft in Thailand rights abuse case
Nov 19, Bangkok: A new Privacy International investigation reveals Microsoft's complicity in a serious case of Government persecution in Thailand.
It is a shocking example of how Western companies not only work with governments that fall considerably short of international human rights standards, but can actually facilitate abuses of human rights.
In early 2014, a Thai stockbroker, Katha Pachachirayapong, was accused by the Government of spreading rumours on the ill-health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which the Government claims caused sharp falls in the Thai stock market. Katha was charged under the Computer Crime Act - a law that bans internet users from posting any 'false information' online.
Due to the vague term 'false information', the Computer Crime Act has been used in multiple cases of 'lèse-majesté' statements (speaking ill of the monarchy), to prosecute almost any comment about the Royal Family perceived as negative.
In this particular case, Katha is accused of having posted messages on an online forum about the King's health, claiming he was terminally ill. According to the Ministry of ICT - the complainant in this case - the messages caused a drop in the stock market.
Our investigation has revealed the problematic role played by Microsoft in this case, which provided key documentation that was used against Katha during the trial in March 2014.
One of the three core documents shown in court was a letter from Microsoft - obtained by Privacy International - revealing IP addresses related to the email account linked to the publication of the offending statements. While the letter had done nothing more than state the IP addresses from which the incriminating email account was accessed, it was eventually key to the prosecution's case in convicting Katha. The document from Microsoft was used to counter Katha's defense against the charges.
Katha was sentenced to two years and eight months in jail in March 2014. He is appealing this decision. Katha has been denied bail and has remained imprisoned for over a year.
Before the publication, we provided Microsoft an opportunity to respond to our investigation. In their response to us, they claim that they only respond to targeted requests under a valid legal order, adding that the legal order was under Thai law, and was targeted at a specific user. According to Microsoft, they were assisting in an investigation of an email account alleged to have been used to violate Thai law by distributing erroneous information that negatively impacted Thailand's stock exchange.
Microsoft handed over sensitive user information to an undemocratic government when it knew the investigation was not about terrorism or serious crime but simply about 'erroneous information' that affected the stock market. In doing so Microsoft aided a prosecution against free expression.
The Oslo Times