Thailand’s military government is pushing ahead with several bills to tighten cyber security, but many critics say the move could result in increased online surveillance, raising concerns over personal privacy.
Wednesday’s parliamentary public hearing on the amendment of the Computer Crime Act received mixed responses. Some expressed concern over the law’s vague definition of what constitutes “falsifying data”, with history of it being used along with criminal and royal defamation suits.
Initially introduced in 2007, the Computer Crime Act was designed to protect people against internet spam, hackers and identity forgers, penalising violators with a maximum jail-term of up to five years and/or a fine of up to 100,000 baht (US$2,800). However, over the years it has faced criticism that it has been exploited as a tool of legal intimidation by the state and others in tandem with defamation suits.
But chairman of the hearing, Police General Chatchawan Suksomjit, said the committee wanted to facilitate every party and the new law should be able to protect the rights of Internet users and not give excessive power to investigating authorities.
“The purpose of the old (2007) Computer Crime Act is exactly what is being amended right now, which is to prevent people from using computers to commit fraud and manipulation for personal gain. It wasn’t designed to be used for defamation charges,” added Police Colonel Siam Boonsom, deputy commander of the Technology Crime Suppression Division.
STATE CONTROL OVER CYBERSPACE
Increasing state control over cyberspace has been a major goal of the Thai military government since it came to power in 2014. In 2016, it launched the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to streamline control over online activities.
Despite its critics, lawmakers say the proposed new law will be more flexible and inclusive, as it will give some seats to non-government groups (NGOs) in a newly created committee under the Ministry that will screen online content.
“In the past, if the authorities wanted to block a certain website, they could do so by seeking approval from the Minister and then go to the court,” said Surangkana Wayuparb, a member of the National Legislative Assembly. “This lacks participation from businesses and NGOs in the vetting process in deciding whether there are sufficient grounds for the blocking of websites. So we want to create a better, more balanced, and systematic mechanism for this.”
MORE POWER TO THE GOVERNMENT
Changes being made to the Act include a section where committees under the digital ministry would be able to file complaints with the court to remove information from websites deemed to violate social-morality standards. Under the amendment, committee members would have to report directly to the minister about the removal of such information.
Critics say the new law will actually give more power to the government as it lacks the check-and-balance system of the legislative process of parliament.
“It is ironic that the regulations that limit freedom will be issued easier than laws that protect freedoms and rights,” said Arthit Suriyawongkul, an expert on cyber and computer law at the Thai Netizen Network. “This is because the process of drafting law that protects people is so difficult. But to forego those protections, they say they only need to use ministry issued order.”
Apart from amending the Computer Crime Act, the government is also launching other laws, like the Cyber Security Act, which would allow authorities to wiretap phones and computers without a court warrant.