Civil liberties group: Facebook ‘complicit in political censorship’

A leading civil liberties group is urging Facebook to disclose more information on requests from foreign countries to censor online content.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation on Monday warned that Facebook's compliance with content restriction in places like Turkey and Pakistan amounted to the company being "complicit in political censorship."

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The EFF said Facebook should push back harder on these government requests and at a minimum should disclosure more information about them.

"As governments grow aware of the fact that stifling speech is as easy as submitting an order to a corporation, the number of those orders will drastically increase," the group wrote. 

Facebook has been releasing transparency reports going back to 2013, listing the number of government requests for content and censorship it receives. 

Those censorship requests are highest in India, Pakistan and Turkey, where local laws prohibit criticism of a religion or the state. 

Facebook notes that it only takes down content that is "illegal under local law." When those local laws do not violate Facebook's terms of service, it only restricts that content in the specific country. 

"We report data on the number of pieces of content we have restricted because they are alleged to violate local laws. All such cases have been subject to legal review," the company notes. 

The EFF said that the technology companies regrettably must comply with censorship requests when they open an office in some foreign countries. But the group said that wasn’t the case for Facebook in Pakistan or Turkey.

"On the other hand, when a company does not have a presence in a given country and is thus not subject to its censorious laws, we believe that it can and should refuse government censorship requests," EFF wrote. 

In the transparency report covering the first part of 2014, Facebook records show it restricted 1,893 pieces of content from Turkey and 1,773 pieces of content from Pakistan. 

Law enforcement and communications officials in Turkey usually cite a law that bars defamation of the country's founder "and personal rights violations.” In Pakistan officials cite "local laws prohibiting blasphemy and criticism of the state," according to the transparency report.