We've been talking a lot about the importance of anonymity online, and are always sad to hear about companies that simply rollover in identifying anonymous users for no good reason. A newly filed lawsuit reveals a particularly ridiculous situation, summarized nicely by Paul Alan Levy
Anthony Chai, a naturalized US citizen who emigrated from Thailand, runs a computer store in California. Using the store's computers, Chai and his customers posted anonymous comments critical of the king of Thailand on a Thai-language pro-democracy website, Manusaya.com. Thailand forbids criticism of the king – the legal principle of lese majeste – and when the Canadian Internet hosting firm Netfirms (which is incorporated in Delaware and maintains a US office) received a complaint from the Thai government, it not only shut down the web site but provided Chai’s IP address and two e-mail addresses associated with the posts. Thailand has long shown its insistence on applying the principle even to criticism voiced in other countries, when the speakers expose themselves to its authority by, for example, visiting the country.
When Chai was home visiting family in Thailand, he was detained at the airport and subjected to extensive questioning and to threats of violence against his family both in the United States and in Thailand. He was also repeatedly questioned in the United States, with prosecutors using the threat of prosecution, and dangling and threatened with prosecution. The prosecutor also demanded expensive gifts. Chai has been officially charged in the Thai courts with lèse majesté, and consequently he can no longer return to his native land to visit his family. Ironically, most of Chai's posts were directed at the injustice of the lese majeste laws, rather than at the Thai king himself.
We've pointed out how Thailand has been known to overreact
to criticism of its king before, and this is even more crazy, seeing as Chai was mainly criticizing the laws that make criticizing the king illegal. But, the other key issue here is the fact that Netfirms simply handed over Chai's info, without consideration of whether or not that was appropriate or if it violated Chai's rights. It also handed over the info without "requesting that the officials obtain the proper court order, supboena, or warrant as required by the Treaty with Thailand on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters." Chai is now suing Netfirms, claiming negligence and violation of California laws, including its constitutional right to privacy. Should be an interesting case to watch.