Crossroads Asia

US Judge Rejects Kazakhstan’s Facebook Demands

Astana can’t use the U.S. court system to get the IP addresses of users associated with Respublika

US Judge Rejects Kazakhstan’s Facebook Demands
Credit: Digital map with flag via Shutterstock

As Kazakhstan continues hounding reporters on the domestic front, its attempts to quash independent reportage on the international scene have shown no signs of slowing. For the past few months the government of Kazakhstan has been pressing its case against the independent Respublika newspaper — one of the few non-state outlets remaining in Kazakhstan — in the American court system.

However, as the U.S.-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) revealed last week, Kazakhstan has just received its third setback in attempting to prevent one of the country’s few remaining independent outlets from functioning. As EFF, which supported Respublika, wrote, “A federal judge in California rejected Kazakhstan’s demand that Facebook turn over information about users associated with Respublika’s account on the social media site.” The ruling stems from Kazakhstan’s attempts last November to subpoena Facebook for identifying information — names, IP addresses, and the like — from “users associated with Respublika and another user’s Facebook accounts.” In effect, Kazakhstan was hoping to obtain information with which it could identify hackers behind a 2014 data-dump, which saw some 70 gigabytes’ worth of damaging documents and emails released to the public.

The presiding judge, however, denied — “flat out reject[ed],” as EFF wrote — the subpoena. As Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman wrote, “Kazakhstan essentially argues that it wishes to compare the IP addresses likely to be produced in response to the Facebook subpoena … with the known IP addresses of computers that were used to access the allegedly hacked accounts during the relevant time periods, hoping to find a match leading to discovery of the hackers’ identities. But that type of discovery at least appears to come dangerously close to a fishing expedition[.]” The judge further cited First Amendment protections within his ruling, noting that the “proposed discovery … raises significant concerns regarding the reporter’s privilege and the First Amendment.”

Likewise, the judge took Respublika’s “serious allegations of oppression and intimidation by Kazakhstan” into account. Such oppression presumably includes continued distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, as well as multiple dog carcasses ominously delivered to Respublika employees, with one including the note, “There will be no next time.” Assailants have also firebombed Respublika’s offices, almost certainly in connection to the newspaper’s findings that President Nursultan Nazarbayev had turned to a Swiss bank account to store some $1 billion of state oil revenues.

Despite the ruling, Kazakhstan’s attempts to use the U.S. court system to implode Respublika have encountered partial success. As a recent article from Courthouse News found, Facebook reportedly deleted numerous posts from Respublika’s page. (“They didn’t send any notice,” editor Irina Petrushova told Courthouse News. “They just deleted them.”) Still, the rulings against Kazakhstan are forming a pattern and present welcome news for Kazakhstan’s beleaguered independent journalists. Indeed, with each ruling against Astana, Respublika’s findings and articles receive another round of international coverage. Now, more readers can learn not only of Kazakhstan’s attempts to bulldoze independent media, but that Nazarbayev — who recently called on citizens to tighten their belts, with recession looming — decided to spend over $105,000 to purchase a trio of letters from Napoleon Bonaparte.