After a 6-hour session, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) passed a revision to the Computer Crimes Act on 16 December, 2016 in a 168-0 vote with 4 abstentions. The law will come into effect after royal endorsement from the King in 20 days and publication in the Royal Gazette.
While the redrafting of the 2007 cybercrime law was intended to combat phishing and other online theft, it has been widely observed
that the rewriting of the new law will be used to silence critics of the National Council for Peace and Order and of the monarchy. Khaosod English
reports that there was negligible public participation in the drafting of the new law given the relatively few number of public hearings.
The Asian Correspondent
has provided a comprehensive breakdown of the controversial aspects of the law that is being advocated against by the petition. These are some of the new amendments that increase government surveillance powers:
- Section 14 of the new amendments states that any person who enters false data into a computer system that could “damage national security, public safety, economic security, public services and infrastructure, or cause panic among the public” could face a maximum 5-year jail sentence and a maximum THB100, 000 fine. Any individual who enters data into a computer system that is deemed as obscene, offensive to the kingdom or is related to terrorism threats will also be prosecuted under this stipulation. This danger posed by Section 14 lies in the ambiguity of the authorities determining the type of activity that is considered to be damaging national and public security and is deemed as offensive.
- Such heavy retribution also threatens service providers (ISPs) as stipulated by Section 15. This would result in self-censorship to avoid legal sanctions. The only way that ISPs would be exempt from the penalty is if it complies with a minister’s request to remove ‘offensive’ data.
- Section 18 stipulates that law enforcement authorities are able to access “traffic data”, encrypted data and computer systems without a court order. This new amendment represents a distinct change from the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and a huge gateway into privacy violations.
- A “Computer Data Screening Committee”, which consists of 5 members of a government-appointed panel will be created. The committee has the power to recommend an authority to apply for a court order to block or remove ‘offensive’ content.
The rights groups Thai Netizen Network and Amnesty International Thailand submitted to the NLA an online petition opposing the draft bill that was signed by over 365, 000 people a day before the amendments were passed. The petition has the hashtag #ComputerCrimeAct. and can be located on change.org.
Many observers and activists have criticised the amendments as the governments’ plan to pass the previously scrapped Single Gateway project that was designed to create a single point of control over all internet traffic. In responding to such criticisms, there appears to be a communication disjuncture among the top levels of the junta hierarchy as while Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has stated that these new amendments are different from that of the previous single gateway plan, Khaosod English
reports that Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has publicly stated a few days prior to the passing of the new amendments that the single gateway project was necessary.
He cited the internet and radio channels operated by exiled Red shirt activists from Laos as the type of targets that such laws would be used against. This shows rather unambiguously the intention of the junta to use the new amendments to the Computer Crime Act to silence dissenters and to curb freedom of expression.
In viewing the response from international human rights NGOs, Amnesty International
has stated that “The proposed amendments will still allow for the prosecution and imprisonment of computer users who peacefully express their opinions online as well as internet service providers hosting sites where such opinions are posted.”
Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia’s senior representative from the Committee to Protect Journalists
has stated that “Thailand’s military government consistently conflates commentary with criminal activity, and these amendments will give officials even wider powers to crush dissent. These amendments should be scrapped, and any future changes to the law should prioritize explicit guarantees of press freedom and freedom of expression.”