SELF-CENSORSHIP of social media and other online content is feared as a result of new regulations under the amended computer-related crime law, according to critics.
At the first public hearing on the new rules yesterday, Thitirat Thipsamritkul, a lecturer at Thammasat University’s faculty of law, said Article 14 of the law allowed the public to file complaints with police on online content they deem undesirable so that service providers could remove them without having to seek a court order.
However, he cautioned that this could lead to self-censorship on the Internet in the name of “self-regulation” or could encourage state officials to turn to the public to impose censorship without having to seek the court’s ruling on controversial online materials. He said this kind of mechanism should rely on market forces to exert pressure, as is the case in some foreign countries. In Thailand, its consequence could mean that individuals and service providers become “enforcers” of the law.
However, lawyer Paiboon Amonpinyokeat said the proposed mechanism would be helpful as it is designed to encourage service providers to remove illegal content quickly, such as “unsuitable” social-media posts.
There is no conclusive legal judgement at this stage on whether Facebook users, for example, can be regarded as “service providers”. According to an appeals court, they could be so regarded in the sense that they have the authority to remove posts from their feeds, but such a ruling could be challenged in a higher court to the extent that social-media users should not be held responsible for any “likes” or “shares” of these posts, as those were the acts of other persons.
The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society says illegal content on the Internet and social media must be removed within three days of a complaint being filed, but critics say the deadlines should be more specific and based on each category of “undesirable” or “unsuitable” content.
Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of Thai Netizens, said service providers were classified into several categories, namely Internet service providers, mobile operators, cloud-computing and data-centre providers, portal websites and others, but they are all subject to the same penalties if found to have violated the computer-related crime law.
Chavarong Limpattamapanee, an adviser to the Online News Providers Association, said illegal online content should be removed within 15 days and a joint committee of public- and private-sector representatives should be empowered to make a judgement on the legality of such content.
Siwat Chawareewong, chief executive officer of M Interaction, a digital advertising agency, said content deemed to have hurt national security should be removed urgently but other categories should be subject to removal within varying deadlines. He said a one-size-fit-all measure would negatively affect e-commerce and other small digital businesses.
Pawoot Pongvitayapanu, founder and CEO of Tarad.com, agreed that only the removal of content hurting national security should be fast-tracked.
Poomjit Sirawongprasert, a Web hosting service provider, said strict rules wouold likely drive cloud and hosting service providers to locate in foreign countries, resulting in an increased financial burden for digital operators in Thailand.
Meanwhile, the National Broadcasting and Telecommuni-cations Commission will work with the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) to remove webpages deemed illegal, according to Takorn Tantasith, the NBTC secretary-general.
He held talks with Jeff Paine, managing director of the Singapore-based AIC, which represents Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, Line and Rakuten, as Thai authorities seek cooperation for the removal of content once there are court orders to do so.
The NBTC said its policy was not to shut down Facebook in Thailand but illegal webpages had to be removed as ordered by the court.