Holding intermediaries liable for users’ content

Earlier this month, I spoke as an expert witness in the ongoing trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the editor of Thailand’s Prachatai.com website, who is being criminally prosecuted under that country’s Computer Crime Act and Lesé Majesté laws. The crime involves online posts allegedly disrespectful to Thailand’s monarchy, but Chiranuch herself is not accused of originating or posting the commentary.

Instead, Chiranuch is being held responsible for the actions of a few commenters on Prachatai’s discussion boards, which contained thousands of comments and posts. The forums were moderated, and any offensive content was removed as soon as Prachatai’s moderators were notified, but the prosecutors state that Chiranuch herself was personally liable the moment any disrespectful commentary was “imported” onto systems under her control.

I made the argument that a law that makes intermediaries such as Prachatai equally and strictly liable for the content of their users would have wide-reaching implications for the Internet and press freedom in Thailand. I also pointed out weaknesses in the presentation of digital evidence in the case. While the court case has been disrupted due to the serious flooding in Thailand, my written statement was accepted. An English version of the evidence I provided is downloadable here.