Privacy And Crime Online - How Facebook Spies The French Connections

J'aime my privacy!
J'aime my privacy!
Boris Manenti

PARIS - This time, it was definitely not a bug. Facebook has admitted to spying on all private conversations on its network, looking for Internet links being exchanged and for possible "criminal activities."

The admission opens the network up to many questions concerning privacy and legal rights.

The Next Web, a popular technology site, found that for every link exchanged on Facebook through private messages or chat, the link’s "Like" counter increases. Some clever Facebook users are doing this on the sly to bolster their statistics. Questioned by The Next Web, Facebook confirmed the story and mentioned a "bug" that it supposedly had corrected. Facebook’s developers' page confirms that the "Like" counters also count "the number of inbox messages containing this URL as an attachment."

However, “the bug doesn’t relate to the actual private-message peeping,” the security company Sophos said on its blog.

Looking for "criminals"

This is not the first time Facebook has admitted to monitoring private conversations. In mid-July, the social network revealed that it had used software allowing it to filter some private messages, especially to track pedophiles. "This specific tool targets the rare cases of adults who try to use websites to attract children," a Facebook spokesman told Le Nouvel Observateur. "These cases implicating sexual predators are very rare, but we take a vigorous and aggressive approach to keeping Facebook users safe."

However, Facebook’s "scanning" of conversations does not target pedophilia only, but "all criminal activity" as well. Facebook reserves the right to "share information" with the authorities "to prevent fraud or other illegal activity."

As well as automatically monitoring private conversations to look for illegal activity, Facebook goes so far as to analyze the links exchanged, in the interests of keeping its "Like" counters up to date. A spokesman for Facebook tried to reassure The Next Web. "Absolutely no private information has been exposed."

"Facebook makes money with people's private lives."

Even if this were true, the practice raises questions concerning privacy and legal rights. Indeed, with regard to French law, Facebook seems to violate article L241-1 of the Internal Security code, which says: "The confidentiality of correspondence by electronic communication is guaranteed by the law. It may not be deprived of this confidentiality, except by public authorities, and only in the case of a public interest necessity as stipulated by the law, and within legal limits."

"The interception of a private message, even by a robot, could be enough to qualify as a violation of the confidentiality of correspondence," says Sabine Lipovetsky, a lawyer specializing in new technologies. "Access to private emails can be justified only if the authorities have requested or authorized it." Moreover, article 226-1 of the French Penal Code punishes infringement of privacy, defined as "the capturing, registering or transmitting, without the consent of their author, and words spoken in private or confidentially."

"This scanning of private messages is not at all surprising," says Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesman for La Quadrature du Net, a French organization that "defends freedom online." "Facebook bases its economic model on the monetization of personal information and its users’ conversations. There is no reason to trust the network to protect private correspondence. Facebook makes its money from web users' private lives. There is only one antidote: close your account and learn to use data-encryption tools."

Jean-Marc Manach, a journalist and author of “La vie privée, un problème de vieux cons?” Privacy: A Problem for Old Farts?, has a very different take. On his blog, he writes, "There is no "private life" on Facebook. On a social network, you live a "social life," or even a "public life." You just have to remember that when you are putting things out there for all to see, you need to pay attention, and be able to deal with the consequences."

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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