Digital bills a 'new level of censorship'

national January 28, 2015 01:00

By WATCHIRANONT THONGTEP
THE NAT

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CIVIL society groups and academics opposing the junta's proposed bills to back the digital economy say they believe the new regulations could form another structure of state censorship.



Arthit Suriyawongkul, a researcher at Thai Netizen Network – a civil society group, said the controversial bills appeared to focus more on national cyber security than economic policy. 
Arthit pointed out that some key details inside the bills were linked to the National Council for Peace and Order’s declarations related to media censorship. If the bills came into effect, the result would be another form of state censorship through cyber and broadcasting services.
He expressed and shared this opinion in an academic seminar called “The digital economy policy and media reform”, organised yesterday by Chulalongkorn University’s Communications Arts faculty.
Arthit offered the cyber-security bill as an example. Under this draft law, the authorities would be allowed to set up committees able to access and survey the personal data of people across all forms and formats – without court orders. 
A similar point between the NCPO’s announcement and the new bills was that the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology would be placed under state sovereignty for national security reasons. 
Also, panellist Prasong Lertratanawisute, director of the Isra Institute, suggested that to get access and collect personal data, the state authority should be permitted only by the court to ensure and guarantee people’s rights were protected, plus freedom of information. 
“Any bills involved with this issue must place more concern on privacy and rights of the people,” Prasong suggested.
Pirongrong Ramasoota, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said such bills would send the media reform process back to the past. She said another problem was the potential for abuse of power. So, the new bills should be amended to protect people’s rights. “Under the bills, it seems the government needs to address public notification if they want to access personal data. This is not enough,” she stressed and added that many developed countries in Europe emphasised consent in data collection and fair information practices. This was the point on which the Thai government must be concerned.
Apart from the public surveillance issue, media experts and scholars also expressed anxiety over media development once the laws were in place. 
The panellists pointed to the NBTC’s fund which is reserved for public research and development, disabled and disadvantaged people, benefits for the elderly and media development for public and community service. It would soon be used to fund government interests once the bills received endorsement by the National Legislative Assembly, they said.