NLA defends computer crime law review

politics November 24, 2016 01:00

By KASAMAKORN CHANWANPEN,
JUTHATHIP LUCKSANAWONG
THE NATION

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ARTICLES TERMED TOO SWEEPING, ALLOWING AUTHORITIES EXCESSIVE OVERSIGHT POWER



THE COMMITTEE drafting the new computer crime law of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) acknowledged pressing concerns over Internet rights but cited the need to balance rights with cyber-crime investigations as well as national security.

Led by chairman Pol General Chatchawan Suksomjit, the committee yesterday held a special session open to the general public to solicit opinions about the 2007 Computer Crime Act that is being revised on the grounds that amendments were necessary to keep pace with the fast-paced digital sphere.

Chatchawan said the committee wanted to facilitate every party and the law should be able to protect the rights of Internet users and not give excessive power to investigating authorities, he said. On the other hand, Internet users should be careful not to violate the rights of other people, cause damage to others or undermine national security, he said.

He detailed changes being made in the law, including Article 20, which stipulates that committees under the digital ministry will be able to file a complaint with the courts to remove information from websites deemed to violate social-morality standards.

The committee, comprised of members from diverse parties including the private sector, will report directly to the minister about the removal of such information, Chatchawan said.

Regarding the controversial Article 14 and 15 of the law, an adviser of the committee Paiboon Amornpinyokiat said Internet providers would not be subjected to punishment as offenders, as some people might be concerned, so long as they followed the ministerial announcements and regulations.

Article 14 prohibits the posting of “false” information, or any information that is deemed to be a threat to national security. The maximum punishment would be five years in jail. Article 15 stipulates that service providers could receive the same punishment.

Concerns raised by rights groups such as Amnesty International in Thailand include the vagueness of the term “false information”, which could be interpreted differently, making it susceptible to abuse at the hands of the authorities to repress certain forms of expression.

A growing number of people have been charged with computer crimes since the coup in 2014. Some cases concern criticism of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and of the monarchy, which led offenders to be charged with other crimes, including under the controversial lese majeste law.

According to Fortify Right, a rights watchdog that also has a branch in Thailand, in 2011, 2012 and 2013, there were respectively six, 13 and 46 cyber-crime cases brought to court. The numbers multiplied after the 2014 coup to at least 321 and 399 cases in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

However, the panel yesterday did not say how it would address the issue.

Meanwhile, rights advocates holding a parallel event called on the NLA to reject the latest amendments to the Computer Crime Act and adopt new proposals to ensure that the state respects people’s rights to privacy and expression and promotes an “information society”.

The groups, including the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) and Thai Netizen Network (TNW), jointly monitored the NLA’s forum via Facebook live and discussed how the currently amended act threatened people’s lives.

Kanathip Thongraweewong, dean of faculty of law of Saint John’s University, said the amended act would threaten the public’s freedom of speech and privacy, given that certain sections still remained vague and overbroad.

The revised version would give authorities sweeping powers to arbitrarily use the law against online users and Internet providers in a widened scope of offences, including defamation.

He said compared to the previous amended version, the current amendments were worse, citing Section 14 as an example.

“The amended Section 14, which bans uploading ‘forged’ or ‘false’ content ‘likely to cause damage to a third party’, carrying up to five years in prison and a Bt100,000 fine, has widened the scope of offences,” Kanathip said.

He said the provision’s language enabled authorities to bring charges of criminal defamation under Section 14, addressing state legal adviser Paiboon Amornpinyokiat’s comments at the NLA forum that Section 14 would be mainly used against cyber-crime cases and phishing, rather than defamation cases.

Other sections, including 15 and 20, deal with service providers and the role of authorities, potentially restricting freedom of expression and creating a “self-censorship climate”, he added.

Under Section 15, service providers who “cooperate, consent or acquiesce” in the committing of an offence against Article 14 will face five years in prison. He said Section 15 will put service providers in a dilemma on whether to invest more in levelling up their protection measures or prove their innocence. 

“The providers will get so scared that they can begin barring users from expressing their opinions,” he said. 

He added that Section 15 also addressed the controversial “notice and takedown” measure that allows authorities to press providers, without judicial approval, to suppress the dissemination of questionable content and have it removed from the computer system. 

“This has raised concerns over the notice and takedown guideline, which has not been explicitly clarified.” 

He also pointed out that Section 20 also suppresses the right to expression. 

Section 20 allows a state-appointed committee, which is in charge of flagging up suspicious content to be removed or block websites that it considers a threat to national security or offensive to public morals. 

“Will we allow a five-member committee to decide what people should or shouldn’t know and what websites or information we should not receive?” he asked.

In the talk, the participants also voiced concerns over Sections 16, 18, and 19, which empower the authorities to access and eliminate suspicious data, which would inevitably threaten people’s privacy. 

Arthit Suriyawongkul, key member of TNW, said people are more concerned about their rights and privacy. 

“As we has observed, netizens actively participate and follow the CCA,” he said, adding that #พรบคอม (#CCA) was yesterday’s top hashtag in Twitter.

However, Yingcheep Atchanont, iLaw’s project manager, said people did not understand much about the CCA, as it was too technical.

He said the objective of the talk was to promote inclusive debates and people’s active participation in relation to the country’s legislation. He asked the government to also allow public hearings and an inclusive process. 

“As a citizen, I want to see people’s rights of expression being protected. The atmosphere should be free and open rather than a suppressed one,” said Peerayuth Lekavanich, a 39-year-old businessman who joined the discussion and regularly expresses his opinions regarding political controversy on social media.