A legal suit has been filed in Californa against Netfirms, Inc., the Canadian web hosting company recently acquired by Endurance International. The suit filed on on August 24, 2011, alleges that Netfirms released personal information to the Thai government, which then allowed Thai officials to identify, detain, and interrogate the plaintiff, Mr. Anthony Chai, both in Thailand and on U.S. soil.
Mr. Chai alleges that these disclosures by Netfirms resulted in the Thai government charging Mr. Chai with violating a Thai law that restricts free speech – ironically, for comments he wrote online criticizing that very law.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by the World Organization for Human Rights USA and the Law Office of Snell & Wilmer, alleges that Netfirms conduct violated California state law, as well as Constitutional and international human rights law. "This case lies at the intersection of privacy guarantees, freedom of expression, international human rights law and the Internet. I am honored to work with Human Rights USA on this important case," said M.C. Sungaila, Partner with Snell & Wilmer.
As set out in the complaint, Mr. Chai, owns a computer store in Long Beach, California from which he and his patrons would access and anonymously post comments on a Thai-language pro-democracy website, Manusaya.com, hosted by Netfirms. Many of the anonymous comments expressed concern with Thailand’s lese majesté laws which prohibit any negative statements about the Thai monarchy and provide for severe punishment, including imprisonment for up to fifteen years.
The suit alleges that Mr. Chai’s privacy rights were violated when, at the request of Thai government officials, Netfirms suspended Manusaya’s account and provided Mr. Chai's IP address and e-mail address to the Thai officials without notice and without his consent. As a result of this release of Mr. Chai’s confidential personal information to Thai government officials, he was subsequently detained at the Bangkok airport, taken to the Department of Special Investigations, and interrogated about his postings on the website. After finally being released from police custody in Bangkok and returning home to California, Mr. Chai was then interrogated by Thai officials over the course of two days on U.S. soil at a hotel in Hollywood, California. Mr. Chai was later informed by Thai officials that if he returns to Thailand, he will be arrested and charged with violating lese majesté laws.
Theresa Harris, Executive Director of Human Rights USA said, “Internet companies need to take great care before releasing confidential information to investigators, especially when those requests come from foreign governments. Information is power, and these companies have the power to place a person at peril of imprisonment for the equivalent of an anonymous letter to the editor. Companies must be held accountable when they disregard the rights of the people who use their services.”
HostJury is seeking a comment from both Netfirms and its parent company Endurance International. HostJury is also seeking more information from Anthony Chai concerning his website Manusaya.com, which appears to remain “down”. A whois report returns little more than a domain expiration date. Googling Manusaya.com returns less!
HostJury will update this story as necessary.