Mon, November 29, 2021

in-focus

Rejigged computer crime law triggers fears of Big Brother politics


Today sees the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) deliberate the bill to amend the Computer Crime Act of 2007.

The amendment has triggered concern that rights and liberties will be further restricted at a time when the country is under a military-led government. Critics fear that authorities will take advantage of the revised law to control the flow of news and information. They also worry that the cybercrime law may be used against political opponents of the government, restricting their freedom of expression.
The amendments will make it easier for authorities to block access to websites with content they deem threatening to national security, public order or moral standards. New bodies called Computer Data Filtering Committees will be given the power to petition courts to prevent dissemination of such material.
Article 4 of the amended law prohibits sending computer data or electronic mail to others in a manner that causes disturbance to them or their computer system, without allowing the recipients to opt out. Offenders will be subject to a fine of up to Bt100,000.
Article 5 makes illegal any act deemed to damage computer data or systems related to the country’s public or economic security or public services. This also targets any act against computer data or system available for public use. Penalties for violation are imprisonment for between one and seven years and a fine of Bt20,000 to Bt140,000.
Article 8 prohibits importation to a computer system of information that is false, dishonest, deceiving or pornographic. It also bans the importing of false information deemed damaging to national security, public safety, public services and infrastructure, or that which could cause public panic.
The new offences are wide-ranging and thus could allow authorities to take blanket legal action against alleged offenders.
Article 14 empowers authorities, with approval from the minister of digital economy and society, to petition the court for an order to restrain the dissemination of offending computer data. The court may order deletion of that data from the computer system. In case of emergency, ministerial approval can be dispensed with.
This clause also enshrines the formation of so-called Computer Data Filtering Committees, appointed by the minister of digital economy and society. These panels of five members (two drawn from the private sector) will act as cyber-censors, judging what and what is not permitted in the online world. They will have the power to seek court orders to block access or even close down websites. The panel members will act as “big brothers”, keeping an eye on netizens to check who is doing what online and in the social media. Those powers certainly constitute an invasion of privacy.
The freedom of social media users and other netizens and will be badly compromised when the new law takes effect. We must ask whether such draconian restrictions on freedom of expression could be issued under an elected administration.

Published : December 14, 2016

By : Attayuth Bootsripoom [email protected] The Nation