New cyber crime draft law shelved in face of civil society opposition

A bill meant to replace Thailand’s controversial Computer Crime Act of 2007 was put on hold by Prime Minister Abhisiti Vejjajiva on 19 April 2011 amidst strong criticism from civil society groups, media reports said.

“The Nation” quoted the prime minister as saying that the draft law, sponsored by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), needs further review.

Groups such as the Thai Netizen Network, iLaw and the Network of Human Rights Law earlier submitted a letter to Abhisit to express their opposition to the draft law which they claimed is worse than the current one.

The Thai Netizen Network said that the amended law does not address old problems but adds more new ones, which will have a wider impact on civil liberty and press freedom.

An Associated Press report quoted Sarinee Achavanunkul, committee member of the Thai Netizen Network as saying that, “If the law is passed, fewer people would want to work as webmasters and administrators due to the high burden of liabilities, and Thailand’s information technology industry will suffer.”

Paiboon Amornpinyokiat, an IT law expert, added that under this proposed law, more people—besides those working with Internet service providers, web hosting and mobile phone companies—could be easily caught in a dragnet, including ordinary people who have Facebook and Twitter accounts, owing to vague technical terms.

“The Nation” said that one of the main concerns is the draft law’s provision on the setting up of a new commission, to be called the Committee to Prevent and Suppress Computer Crimes, made up of representatives from security organizations whose “major role would be to prevent and suppress computer crime.”

This commission, in turn, would be overseen by the MICT and the Electronic Transaction Agency. According to iLaw manager Orapin Yingyongphatthana, the commission will have the power—among others—to request computer data.

Paiboon said that another problematic provision of the draft law is Article 16 which could penalize anyone who downloads audio or video files (songs and films), even for fair use (this right is protected under anti-piracy laws). The article states anyone who illegally copies other computer information into his or her own system that may cause damage to others faces up to five year’s imprisonment or a fine of THB50,000 (USD1,670) and/or both.

Article 24 (formerly Article 14 concerning computer crimes), on the other hand, could hinder journalists from performing their work because the definition of “information that is inconsistent with the fact” is more vague than “false or unauthentic information” as used in the current law. As this offense is deemed as undermining national security or causing panic, anyone convicted of this charge will face a five-year prison term or a fine of up to THB500,000 (USD16,700) and/or both.

According to IT lawyer Paiboon, any media outlet that posts information such as clips from YouTube or data from Wikileak, which may not yet be 100-percent verified, as part of its news story may be charged under this article.

Article 26 (formerly article 16) would land journalists into legal trouble if they post online any news and information on corruption cases or any similar case that discusses a person’s wrongdoing. SEAPA is concerned that this provision is clearly a threat to press freedom as the existing defamation law does not go this far.

This provision also states that anyone who posts online any personal information, or any information that may cause damage to a person or his or her reputation, cause the person to be insulted, hated, or shamed, or cause anyone to believe that such information is true, is punishable for up to five years of imprisonment or face a fine up to THB500,000 (USD16,700) and/or both.

“Expressing opinions should not be subject to censorship, or be restrained within boundaries set by the government; people would otherwise not be able to say anything other than ‘the sun rises in the east,’ iLaw’s Orapin told independent news website Prachatai.

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