Join Boulder Attorney Beth Klein’s fight against human trafficking

Beth Klein Boulder Attorney and Colorado Anti-Human Trafficking Lawyer
Beth Klein Boulder Attorney and Colorado Anti-Human Trafficking Lawyer

Boulder, Colorado Attorney Beth Klein makes change and history in fight against human trafficking.

More than 125 local cops, doctors, teachers, philanthropists and citizens recently gathered for the biggest anti-human-trafficking conference ever held on Colorado’s Western Slope.  That one-day summit happened because Glenwood Springs Attorney Angela Roff asked Boulder Attorney Beth Klein to make it happen.

Beth Klein, a Boulder attorney has a history of making things happen: she wrote Colorado’s 2010 and 2011 anti-human trafficking laws. Former Governor Hickenlooper appointed her to the Colorado Children’s Trust Fund Board, the body that established Colorado’s Child Abuse Hotline. She co-established the Frank Klein Foundation, which works in three areas: law, community empowerment and leadership development.

It was the Klein Frank Foundation that sponsored the recent anti-human-trafficking summit at CMC in Rifle, offering it for free to anyone who wanted to attend.  Law enforcement and prosecution teams traveled from Denver, Aurora, Ft. Collins, and Douglas County to share their knowledge.  A group of physicians from Valley View Hospital came; they wanted to learn the signs of victimization so that they could help patients. Five officers from the Rifle Police attended. A group of co-workers from Alpine Bank’s risk management division showed up; they wanted to be able to recognize how human traffickers arrange their financing.

Klein, says “anti-trafficking is really about creating a cohesive community where everyone cares for each other and no one is left out.” The law she wrote helps with that effort because it “allows us not just to go after the pimp, but the whole gang, the delivery driver, the hotels…”

Thanks to laws written by Beth, trafficking is defined not only as a criminal offense, but also a civil offense, one in which victims can sue for three times the amount of damages plus attorneys’ fees.  Over the years, Beth has represented “many, many clients”. She says, “Every single one, no matter how bad it was, they have gone through major transformations and have gone on to do amazing things.”

One former client has been elected to a city council. The last victim she represented, a 65-year-old woman who was kept chained as a work slave, won a $4.5 million legal judgment against the “Romeo pimp” who tortured and electrocuted her.

Klein explains that human trafficking here in Colorado generally takes two forms: traffic for the sex trade and migrant workers abused by agricultural firms. Local residents may not be aware of it, but law enforcement authorities across multiple states recognize I-70 as a human trafficking corridor. Because I-70 and I-25 cross in Colorado, Denver is a hotspot.

“I want people here in Carbondale to know that kids here are at risk,” says Klein. As we learned at the summit, trafficking typically happens when there are income disparities, when families are struggling to make ends meet. Their kids have problems and they wind up making dangerous choices to survive.”

“When a 14-year-old girl is getting picked up from school early, if she’s suddenly carrying around a Chanel bag in Carbondale, if she’s suddenly wearing clothing that’s not representative of her social status, that’s when you need to pay attention,” Klein explains.

“What you look for is kids in the wrong place at the wrong time; they’re not in school when they should be. Or if they’re in school, there’s been a dramatic change in behavior. They’re not the same as they were a year ago.”

The next two Klein Frank Foundation anti-trafficking conferences arebeing organized and will be held in Grand Junction and Cheyenne Wyoming. Those interested in donation, attending, or participating  in any fashion may call the Klein Frank Foundation at (303) 448-8884 and ask for Beth Klein.

Mueller Caught Some Witches.

I stand for the rule of law, and I demand that our government deal with investigations with even hands.  Too often, Trey Gowdy and members of the GOP in politically charged Congressional hearings have demanded that Mueller end his investigation because it’s tearing the country apart.  The GOP’ers beating the drum to stop the investigation have lost sight of the fact that the Russian investigation is not 100% about Trump.  It is about the assault of a foreign government on democratic institutions.

Good thing that Gowdy’s demands were ignored and the process continued.  Today, the witch hunt caught some witches.  I suspect there will be more.  In the meantime we have arrived in the Gertrude Stein – “there there.”

Read the indictment here:


The Siren Destroyer of Corporateness

It is no secret that I am a fan of Jaron Lanier.  I read his work and the works of his critics.    Jaron is one of the world’s great polymaths. He’s a computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and the author of a new book, Who Owns the Future?published last month There are very few people in Silicon Valley with such insight and as captivating and intelligent as Lanier. Not only does he know it all from within, he has been there at all the crucial junctures, cultural and technological, over the last thirty years. His work reassures me that I am not merely a gadget or a revenue unit, and it provides a long view of the possibilities of the effect of big data and the electronic Skinner box social media experiment in which we are all participants.

A barefoot Buddha with dreadlocks, perched in a crazy fun house in the leafy hills of Berkeley, Mr. Lanier is a founding member of the digerati. The 57-year-old computer scientist, musician and writer has been christened the father of virtual reality.

“I’m a professional illusionist,” he says. “In some ways, I might know more about making illusions than anybody.”

Mr. Lanier is one of the few prophets who admits that the spawn of Silicon Valley could become evil, but he tries to stay on the sunny side. It helps that he avoids all social media.

Maureen Dowd on Jaron Lanier

Disruption is revered.  But what does it really mean?  According to Lanier, it means the destruction of the middle class that the complete turn over of power to Siren networks of big data which replace science and destroy corporations.  Professionals in journalism, music, translation, manufacturing and law with the opportunity to save and grow wealth have been relegated to piecemeal earnings.   The era of disruption stems from a 1980’s decision to make internet interaction and information free.  We’ve embedded into the architecture of the Internet some ideas that are making us collectively poorer instead of richer, or at least less richer than we could be. We’re losing wealth because more and more of our economy involves information, and information is not being bought and sold properly.   We are manipulated by social media and trained to engage in addicting regimented behavior with feeds modified to serve our existing views and tribalism.

Jaron does not reject Facebook outright but sees in it a manifestation of regimented expression (not his term). In order to create an identity and fashion oneself on Facebook one must conform to the ways the social network is structured. One must write in certain spaces, must have friends, must like. The choices one is forced to exercise preclude other options. Over time by habit people begin thinking and behaving in certain technologically predetermined ways.

Facebook modifies  user behavior and thinking, and it also a new corporate valuation system.  Facebook bought Instagram a little over a year ago, a deal that Vanity Fair called “the ultimate Silicon Valley fairy tale,” a billion-dollar sale of a company less than two years old. Maybe even more remarkably, at the time of the sale, Instagram had exactly 13 employees.

How could a billion-dollar company have only 13 employees? It’s not because those employees were so extraordinarily valuable. It’s because much of its value “comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it.” He wants, in brief, “to monetize more of what’s valuable from ordinary people.”  The value of the company does not come from any product, it comes from the number of grunts that interact with the company.

Big data disruption destroys industries and jobs.  To him the dramatic changes in the music industry and journalism due to stealing of content and “free” digital news are only a preview of things to come. More and more jobs will be lost to digitization. Already it is extremely difficult in this age of smart-phone cameras to make a living as a photographer. Soon enough driverless cars will all but eradicate the profession of drivers. Education and professorial tenure might be next. Why pay indecent tuition when soon Harvard and MIT lectures might be online? 3-D printing is still rudimentary but who can guarantee that in a century we shall not be able to purchase online a software program of a new car and then print it on our 3-D printer in the garage? At its height Kodak employed 140 thousand people, writes Lanier. Instagram, when it was sold to Facebook in 2012 for a billion US dollars, employed thirteen people. One can hardly evoke a more vivid picture of the slimming down of the middle class than this.

Facebook, Google, Amazon and several dozen other companies organized around giant computers-servers in financial services, insurance and a handful of other industries tend to monopolize the market. The precursor to the development was Wal-Mart, which perfected the drive towards extreme efficiency. To some extent innovators always did it. Still Henry Ford tried to price his cars so that his employees at assembly line could afford them. Many Wal-Mart employees on Wal-Mart salaries cannot afford bigger-scale shopping in their department store. The logic of digital economy rewards winners and impoverishes everyone else, believes Lanier. He gives the supercomputers a Homeric name: siren servers. They function as mythical sirens, luring us with cheap or free services.

“We have free music, but soon enough barely anyone will be able to make money as a musician,” warns Lanier in one of his lectures. The same will soon apply to journalists, photographers, drivers and later on perhaps to teachers and professors. A look at Google and others’ business model is sobering. These companies give us free or cheap services and products in exchange for our allowing them to snoop on us. In the meantime they work to perfect cyber profiles of each of us according to our shopping, travel and life habits and then work the information into algorithms for offering information, services and goods.

Jaron:   Okay, so let us hypothesize that in the future there would be robotic devices that would create bread, or perhaps bread could be 3-D printed, or perhaps bread might go from some tiny seedling on its own, automatically. In a sense, it already does that, of course. But let us just suppose, at any rate, that there are technologies for making bread which require vastly less human labor than in our present times. And this might include the workers in the field who gather the grains and process the grains. The whole thing might become what we call more “automated,” right?

And so then, the usual line of thinking is that, “Well, it’s sad that all the people who might have had jobs making bread before or making the components for bread or transporting the bread, it’s sad that all those jobs went away. But we can count on new jobs coming about, or at least new paths to sustenance, because technology always creates new opportunities.” And that’s something that I think is true. However, it all really depends on how we think about the technologies.

If we think about the technologies purely in the terms of sort of an artificial intelligence framework, where we say, “Well, if the machine does it, then it’s as if nobody has to do anything anymore,” then we create two problems that are utterly unnecessary. There’s a microeconomic problem, and there’s a macroeconomic problem. The microeconomic problem is that we’re pretending that the people who do the real work don’t exist anymore. But then the macroeconomic level also has to be considered. If we are saying that we’re automating the world—which is what happens when you make technology more advanced, and therefore there will be more and more use of these corpora driving artificial intelligence algorithms to do everything, including bread making—if we’re saying that the information that drives all this is supposed to be off the books, if we’re saying that it’s the free stuff, it’s not part of the economy, it’s only the sort of starter material or the promotional material or whatever ancillary thing it might be, if the core value is actually treated as an epiphenomenon, what will happen is the better technology gets, the smaller the economy will get, because more and more of the real value will be forced off the books. So the real economy will start to shrink. And it won’t just shrink uniformly; it’ll shrink around whoever has the biggest routing computers that manage that data.

I think the easiest way to describe this is to set up a little bit of a contrivance, which is a three-act play. So Act I is the 19th century, and the 19th century is completely consumed with anxiety that technology will throw people out of work, with some of the examples being the Luddite riots, early science fiction, the writing of Marx, “The Ballad of John Henry”—many other examples that I’ve gone into elsewhere. And so you have this tremendous anxiety.

Act II is the 20th century, and what happens in the 20th century is that that anxiety is resolved favorably, because it turns out that when there are better technologies, people can actually get better jobs. The transition from horse-driven vehicles to motorized vehicles represented a kind of profound improvement in the experience of the operator, right, because dealing with horses is tremendously smelly, difficult, and somewhat dangerous work, because they kick you. I mean, I love horses, but the truth is that dealing with the feed and the waste from them, and the brushing and dealing with the shoeing, I mean, it’s a lot. It’s a big deal. And operating a motor vehicle is so much easier in comparison that people pay to drive sports cars. I mean, people like driving. So the natural question to ask is, If technology has made operating a vehicle that much easier, why on earth should that person be paid? Why is it still a job worth paying?

And the answer is actually twofold, from two different perspectives, which we could say from below and from above. From below, the reason was that the labor movement said it was and fought really hard to make that the answer.

But from above, there’s another very interesting idea, which is markets can’t thrive without customers, so you need a middle class to be the customers. So, for instance, Henry Ford, who was a complete creep and otherwise, it has to be said, but in this particular way was very enlightened, where he said, you know, I can’t just put a product out there. I have to create a whole ecosystem in which my product will have customers. And that means making sure that my own factory workers can afford to buy the product. So the pricing has to match what wages can handle. And it also means supporting the idea of industries that treat it as a monetized function, because otherwise it’ll never take off. And so there was this understanding at that time that you have to build a monetized ecosystem.

So the 21st century comes along, which will be our third act, and what we decide is, Hey, you know what? We’re going to renege on the wisdom of the 20th century. We’re going to reject it. We’re going to say, sure, maybe it was still okay to pay people when they were driving vehicles, but you know what? At this point it’s ridiculous. Life’s getting so easy, vehicles can drive themselves. It’s time to stop paying people. You know, this is the end of the line. Now things are too good.

And, of course, the problem with that is that the same logic that applied to the 20th century really does still apply to the 21st century. If, in order to bring people the fruits of technology, you have to undo the ecosystem of the economy, well, then that’s what you’re doing. And then even though there might be a heroin-like hit because the initial phases of it feel really good, in the initial phases you can have little tiny companies that become incredibly valuable because they’ve become hubs for data, and people can get free treats online. So you have these benefits, so that feels really good. But in the long term, of course, you’re shrinking markets and, indeed, destroying the market economy without a clear alternative. And so that’s the problem with our third act so far, and we have to figure out a way to resolve it.

The solution is micropayments.  Lanier suggests that we institute micropayments for the kind of value we create for siren servers. Ironically, it is difficult to imagine this solution in practice without disruption to digital economy.




Help Refugee Minors

Fight back!

The Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program, operating since the mid-1970s, is the only program of its kind in the world—unique in its fusion of child welfare and refugee protection by incorporating unaccompanied children into the United States’ existing child welfare framework through agencies with expertise in serving children and families with forced migration experiences. The URM program embodies the core ideals of U.S. domestic and foreign policies by offering protection to the most vulnerable and promoting the integration of unaccompanied children into local communities.

Currently, 23 URM programs operate in 15 states. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) are the two national resettlement agencies that are authorized by the U.S. Department of State to place unaccompanied refugee minors throughout the national URM network.

Eligible Children

Initially developed to serve unaccompanied refugee minors, the URM program has evolved along with patterns of conflict and forced displacement, and today it serves refugee, asylee, Cuban/Haitian Entrants, survivors of human trafficking, children with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and U visa recipients. Most often, children referred to the program have parents who are deceased, untraceable, or for whom family reunification is not viable due to war,civil unrest, or unresolvable child maltreatment, however, family tracing and reunification efforts continue after placement. URMs are not generally eligible for adoption as it is often difficult to prove child’s parents are deceased or to terminate parental rights given the nature of the conflicts.

Unique Service Approach URM programs follow the same state laws and regulations that govern domestic foster care. In addition, URM programs provide trauma-informed

services specific to the needs of a foreign-born child who has encountered a

forced migration experience, to include integration while preserving heritage

culture and religion, development of independent living skills, English

language acquisition, educational needs and goals, and employment

preparation. URM programs are developed by agencies that have experience

with reception, placement, and integration of refugees and immigrants.

Program Oversight

Each URM program is a state-licensed child placing agency that enters into a

contract with its state refugee coordinator’s office. The state refugee

coordinator’s office oversees the administration of the URM program, and the

program is also monitored regularly by state child welfare authorities. Program

services are 100 percent reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Health and

Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS/ORR). In addition to their role as the national placement agencies, USCCB and LIRS serve as an ongoing resource for the programs offering case consultation, training, and program development assistance.

If you need further help entering the kindness movement and supporting children, contact Beth Klein, Attorney Boulder 303-448-8884.

Be Safe

In my travels I have noticed that Americans say “be safe” or “safe travels.” I don’t hear this language in other cultures.

I wonder why Americans say this?

Any thoughts?

Beth Klein Boulder Attorney Blog
Beth Klein Boulder Attorney Blog

Lead on my son

As we march through our lives experiencing the roles of child, parent, grandparent we may forget that partnership and co leadership is possible between the generations to make a world that works for all.

Fifty years ago a war was snuffing the lives of the young and assassins were killing voices of equality, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Bullets and bombs.

In the face of the loss of friends the children of 1968 stood up to hate and violence with hope. The children of 2018 stand up for their survival as historic violence takes the lives of their friends, brothers and sisters. There is hope, and as in 1968 there is resistance to the end of violence. And the resistance is based on white fear – then and now. The white fear of communism and the white fear of “losing” status and stuff.

I have friends who say kids who can’t vote have no right to tell adults what to do. But they do – especially when lives depend upon it. I stand for partnership between the young and old and the people who want to own guns and those who will not tolerate bullets in any more young bodies. The young have the right to live in 2018 and 1968.

People are masters of empowering violence and division. Traditional and social media are packed with opinion, positions and mockery. Solutions, connectivity, trust and forgiveness are not present.

As I listened to a graduation speaker speak the truth that children’s lives matter and watched as MAGA booed him, I realized that the teams the red hats and the pink hats have become more important than life. Black hats. White hats. Nothing in between. No respect for either.

I hope that Americans start taking a broader view and working toward the well being of all of us. I want my son to live on, flourish and to lead, and I want the same for your children. I want to see the creative spirit of America grow again. Let’s find peace between us and create the future. Let’s flourish instead of fight.



My friend and mentor, Michael Jensen defines “integrity” as what it takes for a person to be whole and complete in that they honor their word.  Honoring one’s word means keeping our word, and on time; or as soon as we know that we won’t keep our word, we inform all parties counting on us to keep our word and clean up any mess that we’ve caused in their lives.

In 2017 I gave my word to present a leadership course to 1000 women around the world.  May 12, 2018 is the first presentation this year to fulfill on my word.   The world needs leaders, people who are thoughtful about when they give their word and meticulous about honoring their word.

The participants in the May 12, 2018 course are astonishing women who have assumed many leadership roles in their lives, and the world is blessed to have them active on this planet:  Leading healing therapeutic art  projects for the United Nations, resourcing and supporting teachers, improving the quality of health services for veterans, transforming access to health care for children in Arizona, helping women executives break glass ceilings and getting equal pay,  increasing voter registration and participation, improving the justice system both from the bench and trial lawyer roles, preserving the environment, standing for a world where violence against women does not exist and — so much more.

What brings us all together for this day is our desire to be a leader and to cause a future that isn’t going to happen unless we say it will and take action to make it so.   This is not a course about observing what a leader is; it is a course where we take on being a leader with a leadership project that can be completed, or well on its way, by the end of the day on May 12, 2018.

This parameter – a leadership project that can be completed or well on its way, by the end of the day – has been enlightening to all of us.    It teaches us that being a leader can be accessed at any time on any scale.  Leadership is not reserved for world-wide projects.  One can be a leader to yourself, within your family, on your facebook feed, at your workplace — anywhere.

Leadership always arises from honoring your word and being a person of integrity – a person that others can count on.  Leaders are always given being by something greater than themselves, and that something is why people want to follow.

I cannot wait to see what happens as my word to train 1000 women leaders manifests and spreads.

May 3, 2018  Beth Klein, Attorney and Human Rights Activist



Facebook’s Data Sales, Safety & Privacy

Beth Klein Boulder Attorney Blog
Beth Klein Boulder Attorney Blog

Wow.   Not Afraid?  I’m not so sure.

Facebook has been building a research project that would collect, analyse, and likely sell the insights of a mash of Facebook user’s behaviors and medical information. Facebook approached at least eight of health organizations including Stanford Medical School and the American College of Cardiology.

The plan was to use blind data from both Facebook and healthcare providers and with hashing, match them up.  What is hashing?   Facebook information about a user like their age, whether they’re married and have kids, what language they speak primarily and how often they engage with friends or family online would be matched to health data, such as age, medical conditions, prescribed medications and how often they visit the doctor. Researchers would then look to see if the added social media information might help improve patient care. For example, finding a patient doesn’t have family or friends nearby might be found to necessitate a nurse checking on that patient at home following a surgery.  But, I ask, can’t a hospital social worker have a conversation with a patient about their needs instead of relying of purchased data and bots?  Don’t medical professionals know their patient’s age, marital status, and what langauge they speak?  Isn’t it a good thing to talk to a patient and establish a real relationship?

“The medical industry has long understood that there are general health benefits to having a close-knit circle of family and friends. But deeper research into this link is needed to help medical professionals develop specific treatment and intervention plans that take social connection into account,” Facebook said in a statement. It added that last month, it decided to temporarily halt the project “so we can focus on other important work, including doing a better job of protecting people’s data and being clearer with them about how that data is used in our products and services.”

Right.  As many as 87 million Facebook users’ data were improperly obtained by political firm Cambridge Analytica, many more than the 50 million affected users initially reported.

Facebook was never free.  We give our behavioral, personal, financial information to Facebook in exchange for the illusion that we are “connected.”   Facebook crunches our data and uses it as a commodity.   Who reads or understands the terms of service?  Not many.  Most users see the Facebook experience like a giant mixer or reunion.   And it is a way to find like minds and motivate behavior, and Facebook profits from selling the means to do just that.

The Cambridge Analytica story pales in my mind to the way that social media platforms have been used to empower terrorist groups.   And now, Facebook, Twitter, and other companies are being sued for profiting from connecting terrorists.

Mandy Palmucci traveled to France in the fall of 2015 to run a marathon.  On Nov. 13, 2015, she was at the LaBelle Equipe café where 19 people died.

That account of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris is contained in a new lawsuit Palmucci filed in federal court in Chicago aimed at Twitter, Facebook and Google. It accuses all three — as well Google’s YouTube — of not just aiding, but profiting from, ISIS’ use of their websites.

Without the social media platforms, the “growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” it alleges.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the dismissal of a similar lawsuit in federal court in California.  The San Bernadino massacre case against Twitter and Facebook is winding its way through Court.  SanBernadino-complaint  but Palmucci’s lawyer, Keith Altman, believes the law in the 7th U.S. Circuit where Palmucci’s case is filed is favorable.


She filed her lawsuit Wednesday, citing the Antiterrorism Act.

It alleges that ISIS accounts on Twitter have grown “at an astonishing rate” and that, as of December 2014, the terrorism group had roughly 70,000 Twitter accounts — 79 officially — posting 90 tweets a minute.

It said ISIS used the platforms “to specifically threaten France that it would be attacked for participating in a coalition of nations against ISIS, to celebrate smaller attacks leading up to these major attacks, and to transform the operational leaders of the Paris attacks into ‘celebrity’ among jihadi terrorists.”

The 128-page complaint lays out ISIS’ historical use of social media sites, citing among other cases the beheading of American journalist James Foley that appeared on YouTube in August 2014.

The lawsuit alleges not only that the social media sites give the group “a sense of authenticity and legitimacy,” but that it is a vehicle for ISIS to seek out financial donations. Additionally, it alleges the companies “routinely profit from ISIS” through ads on ISIS postings that “are not placed randomly.”

Supplying data to hack elections, selling targeted recruiting ads for terrorists, and harvesting medical records.   Facebook is a data mining company for profit and you are the crop to harvest.  Let’s no longer chose to ignore that reality.


Un-Breaking America

America is locked a cycle of argument that is breaking the possibility of a future where it is safe to go to school, to worship, to gather and to live freely because of gun violence.

Incalculable amounts of time and resources are invested in points of view as the truth.  Uni-dimensional points of view are touted as the truth and forced on others in CAPS and memes.  Guns kill people! No people kill people!  It’s about the bullets!  It’s about the magazine size!  It’s about mental health!  It’s because God is not in schools!  It’s the NRA!  Its President!  It’s the Congress!  None of these points are view are the truth.  They are all false choices.  No problem is solved through singular thinking or “my way.”

It will take the hearts and commitment of 300 million American’s to stop the cycle of violence.   What will it take to bring 300 million together?   Can we agree to look at an outcome?  Can we join together with all of our points of view and stop the body count in America?  What will be our context to create a solution?

Let’s step back and examine the validity of what we already ‘know’ and say about guns and the 2nd Amendment and in what way that ‘knowing’ may constrain, shape, and distort skills, cognitive capacities and solutions that would otherwise be available to us.

In the following weeks, I will post interviews with lots of people talking about this issue and growing the context in which solutions can be placed into action.    I hope you will follow, and if you would like to be in an interview, please contact me.



Beth Klein Attorney – Changing the World


6 Colorado Women Who Are Changing The World

March 8, 2018

Colorado Women Who Are Changing the World
Beth Klein Boulder Attorney Blog

To celebrate International Women’s Day,  All Things Boulder wanted to feature some powerful, inspiring Colorado women who are changing the world. I have good news — there are many. This list is just a glimpse, a snapshot of local women who are making a difference in this often difficult world. In no particular order, here are six Colorado women who are changing the world.    Read the article about Beth Klein  here:

Facebook and the Cambodian Dictator

Cambodia is a dictatorship.  I had the honor of working with Mu Sochua, a leader of the opposition party, when the dictator, Hun Sen issued a warrant for her arrest.  Sochua has fled Cambodia after her party made great strides in recent elections, but was cut down by the regime.  Now, Hun Sen is using Facebook to solidify power and arrest Cambodians who participate in Facebook.   Now, the dictator and Facebook are going to Court in California.

Beth Klein Attorney, Mu Sochua, Terry Greenblatt
Beth Klein Attorney, Mu Sochua, Terry Greenblatt

The country’s government, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has purchased millions of fake “likes” on the platform, used it to silence critics and spread propaganda, opponents say.

On Thursday morning, former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s lawyers filed a petition in a Northern California court that could shed light on this behavior, raising questions about the social media giant’s possible role in bolstering an authoritarian government.

“Human rights are being ignored and our electoral system is in shambles,” said Sam, 68, who lives in exile in France. “By exposing facts now in the possession of Facebook, we will be able to place real evidence before courts in Cambodia and possibly elsewhere. When facing irrefutable evidence, even a dictator will have to backtrack.”

The Cambodian government has charged Sam in several politically tinged cases, at least four of which concern content he has posted to Facebook. Sam’s petition “seeks information in Facebook’s possession regarding Hun Sen’s misuse of social media to deceive Cambodia’s electorate and to commit human rights abuses,” according to a statement by the San Francisco-based law firm BraunHagey and Borden, which is representing Sam.

Facebook declined to comment. A spokeswoman directed questions to company material that shows Facebook has been cracking down on fake likes since 2015. The company uses pattern recognition to block the practice and has notified more than 200,000 pages in the past three years that they’ve been protected from fake likes.

Since Hun Sen ascended to the Cambodian government’s highest levels in the late ’70s, he has established a reputation as a tough leader with a low tolerance for dissent. With a national election scheduled for July, his government has, in recent months, shuttered Western nonprofit agencies, prosecuted scores of activists and hobbled the country’s independent press. In November, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the country’s only opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, which Sam had led until last year.

Sam’s successor, Kem Sokha, was arrested in September for alleged treason. Several other party leaders have fled abroad or gone into hiding.

Cambodians once regarded Facebook as an injection of transparency in the long-authoritarian state. The CNRP used the platform to communicate directly with voters in a 2013 national election, precipitating protests and winning it a significant number of seats.

Yet as the platform grows more influential in the country, authorities have increasingly co-opted it to spread propaganda and silence critics. According to a 2017 report, 4.5 million people in the country are connected to Facebook, and more than half use the platform every day; many use it as their sole source of news.

Since 2014, 15 people have been arrested in the country over Facebook posts, according to a recent investigation by BuzzFeed News.

“Where Cambodians have lost here is in restrictions in online speech,” said Sebastian Strangio, the author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia.” “(Hun Sen’s party) has been extending all the informal and formal media controls that it’s had offline – in newspapers, radio – and extending them to the online sphere. It can’t go after Facebook, so it’s going after the users.”

Hun Sen has 9.4 million likes on his Facebook page, which mainly depicts him snapping selfies with supporters and spending time with his family. By one metric, he’s the third most popular world leader on the platform after India’s Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, according to the public relations company Burson-Marsteller.

In 2016, Sam accused Hun Sen of purchasing fake likes from “click farms” in the Philippines and India, a practice that Facebook has said it does not condone. Hun Sen denied the allegation – “If I could buy India, I must be really strong,” he said at the time – and sued Sam for defamation.

Thursday’s petition also alleges that Hun Sen also published a death threat against Sam on the platform, violating its user guidelines.

Although Hun Sen’s government has shuttered independent media, it has allowed far-right, government-aligned news outlets to thrive. The web site Fresh News, often equated to the U.S.’ Breitbart News, often vilifies opposition figures and dissidents while touting the party line. It has 2.4 million likes.

“Facebook has demonstrated its potential to help improve information-sharing and transparency in countries like Cambodia,” Sam’s attorney, J. Noah Hagey, said in a statement. “The issues raised in the petition ask fundamental questions about Facebook’s role in the democratic process, including how it will react when being misused by repressive regimes.”

Sam’s case hinges on a so-called Section 1782 discovery, named for a U.S. statute that stipulates that if an American company is involved in a legal proceeding in another country, a litigant can apply to a U.S. court for evidence that could be used in that proceeding.

Sam faces several lawsuits in his home country. In January, he was charged with inciting and demoralizing the military after he suggested – in a video posted to Facebook – that Cambodian soldiers would not obey orders to shoot civilians. (Hun Sen called the comment a “declaration of war.”)

In 2016, Sam protested the killing of Kem Ley, a prominent political analyst who was gunned down at a Caltex gas station that July. Although the killer, Oueth Ang, is in jail, many Cambodians suspect that the killing was a political assassination and that its architects have not been brought to justice. A Cambodian court found Sam guilty of defamation and incitement for calling the killing “an act of state-sponsored terrorism.”

BraunHagey and Borden used the Section 1782 statute to obtain surveillance tapes from U.S. energy giant Chevron, which owns the gas station where Kem Ley was shot. The Cambodian government is not known to have acted on the additional evidence.

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