Judge favours Cambodian exile on Facebook data demand

Sam Rainsy has accused longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen of misusing the network to spread propaganda

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the inauguration ceremony of National Road No. 1, which has been built with aid from Japan, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia March 13, 2018. Picture taken March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
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Facebook may have to turn over information on its platform to an exiled Cambodian politician who is trying to defend himself against charges by the ruling regime that would send him to prison if he returns.

A magistrate judge said on Monday she will probably order the social media company to furnish some – but not all – of the records sought by opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, who has accused longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen of misusing the network to spread propaganda.

Mr Rainsy, who has lived out of the country since 2015, is also fighting multiple criminal and civil claims brought against him and contends the Facebook data will help prove the accusations are trumped-up.

“I’m likely going to give Mr Sam the ability to get some information from Facebook,” US magistrate Judge Sallie Kim said during a hearing in San Francisco.

Facebook said it did not want to be drawn into a political dispute between the ruling and opposition parties of Cambodia. The company said Mr Rainsy was on “a fishing expedition” and that complying with his demand would force it to reveal the prime minister’s private communications and account activity of his opponents, in violation of US privacy laws.

A lawyer for the company told the judge that Mr Rainsy’s efforts to pry into ‘Likes’ posted on Hun Sen’s Facebook page poses a “significant problem” given the company’s obligations to honour user privacy. Mr Rainsy contends millions of those ‘likes’ were manufactured by ‘click farms’.

“We cannot go around telling him which users ‘like’ the prime minister on which dates,” attorney Joshua Lipshutz told Ms Kim, arguing that such information amounts to “content” that’s protected by federal law.

Justice Kim said she intends to tailor her order to direct Facebook to turn over information that specifically relates to the charges facing Sam Rainsy.