By KASAMAKORN CHANWANPEN,
FREEDOM OF expression and right to access information will be seriously curbed by the new Computer Crime Act, which was enacted yesterday, according to legal and rights experts.
Yingcheep Atchanont of iLaw, a network of legal experts, said: “There will be wider and further limits on people’s freedom due to the enactment of amendments to the Computer Crime Act (BE 2550), especially with regard to information distribution on the Internet.”
Activists and those who disagree with the government’s policies, will be most affected as Article 14 of the law states that anyone who posts anything wrongfully will face up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to Bt100,000.
“The definition of ‘wrongful’ information is very wide, so anyone who opposes the government may be violating the new law. Moreover, people who share the information and website owners will also be punished with the same penalties,” he said.
“In general, the liberty of all people will be limited, as the websites which authorities think are harmful to national stability and the morality of people, will be shut down and people will have less freedom on the Internet.”
Meanwhile, Thai Netizen Network leader Sarinee Achavanuntakul said the Act was very ambigious. “The law is very vague on what is right and what is wrong, so the Internet will be filled with fear as anyone could be arrested for what they do on the Internet.
“According to police, there are about 1,400 cases pending under the current version of the Computer Crime Act and no one knows if there will be many more cases. I would like to ask the NLA to clarify the law and get rid of the ambiguities to solve the problems.”
Amnesty International Thailand director Piyanuch Kosot said that as her organisation was one that campaigned against the new law, she wanted to thank the 360,000 people who signed the petition objecting to it, despite the bid ending in failure.
“We are very disappointed that the NLA approved this law. The Computer Crime Act should protect the people, but many amendments in this law open room for even greater human rights violation,” Piyanuch said. “Not only us, but 360,000 people and the world community are watching the NLA closely and we will keep monitoring enforcement of the law and changes to the law in the future.”
The controversial amendments to the law were passed yesterday by the NLA with 168 votes and five abstentions. In the final reading, legislators decided to increase the number of online content screening committee members from five to nine.
The amendment will be effective after royal endorsement.
Chatchawan Suksomchit, head of the NLA committee on the amendment, said the new law had no relation to the so-called single gateway of internet connections as worried by some members of the public.
The NLA pushed for the new law despite strong criticism that it was a threat to human rights, freedom of expression and privacy.
Over 360,000 Internet users on an online platform Change.org signed a petition against the amendment.
Arthit Suriyawongkul, a leader of Thai Netizen Network, said rights groups would continue to oppose the law by calling for amendments in line with human rights principles. Rights groups would oppose any cyber laws that threatened freedom of expression.
During five hours of debate on the third reading of the law, lawmakers such as Wallop Tangkananurak said the previous draft would have five |committee members – three from the public sector and two from private sector or civil society. This would allow the committee to convene with only three members if non-government members were not present, making it a complete executive-branch authority to screen online content, he said.
As a result, the number of committee members was increased to nine members to include human rights advocates as well as information technology and other relevant experts.
With regard to the controversial Article 14, they agreed to include a clause on offences excluded as defamation as stipulated in the criminal code.
Chatchawan Suksomchit, head of the NLA panel on the amendment, said the law was intended to prevent online scamming. The NLA panel argued that Article 20, which gives the authority to remove immoral online content, should be handled by courts. While immoral and other undesirable content will be removed, Internet users posting the content will not be charged.