Computer bill deeply flawed

Computer bill deeply flawed

Illustration by Willis Towers Watson Wire
Illustration by Willis Towers Watson Wire

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) must uphold its honour by rejecting the deeply flawed draft amendment to the 2007 Computer Crime Act and send it back for further revision.

If enacted in its current form, the bill will betray its purpose of ensuring cyber security, freedom and privacy for people in the country, the government included.

The draft amendment's most serious shortcoming is in its giving too much power for state authorities to make their own judgement whether certain actions may be deemed in violation of the law. The ambiguity which underlies several sections of the draft is extremely vulnerable to being abused by the state to restrict freedom of expression.

It is unfortunate that this lack of clarity and past abuses are the very blemishes that cause the original Computer Crime Act to be criticised by human rights activists both inside the country and internationally.

Calls have been mounting for the law to be improved so that it offers tighter protection for both the government and private citizens when it comes to real cyber crimes and threats, not what critics refer to as content or thought crimes. It is therefore such a letdown that once the long-overdue revision has been made, it not only fails to address the weak points of the original act but seems to have worsened them.

While the draft amendment must be revised in several areas, two sections stand out as glaring mistakes.

Section 14 reads almost like a blank cheque for authorities to press a computer crime charge against any state critics. The section said people who enter into a computer system, publicise or share false information that "could" cause damage to national security, public safety, economic security, public services and infrastructure or provoke public panic will be subject to five years' imprisonment and a fine of no more than 100,000 baht.

There is no clear definition of what acts may be construed as being in breach of this section. Will criticising the government's megaprojects qualify as damage to national security or public infrastructure? How about opinions about the state of the country's economy?

With the law written this ambiguously, selective treatment will become inevitable and the law will end up being just a tool to gag public opinion.

The other oversight in the draft amendment is the establishment of the computer data screening committee which can ask relevant authorities to request a court order to block or delete data deemed to be in breach of public order or good morals even if it does not violate any law.

The data screening panel, powerful as it seems, is to consist of five members, two of which must represent the private sector. This is all the draft law has to say. There is no telling how the panel will be accountable to the public or how its members will be selected.

The maintenance of "public order and good morality" is also too broad a ground to be cited for data censorship.

In its explanation as to why the 2007 Computer Crime Act must be revised, the military regime said the law in its current shape and form is ill-equipped to cope with newly emerged wrongdoings which have become increasingly complex due to rapidly advancing technologies.

Judged against this rationale, the draft amendment is a failure. It does not seek to cope with many new computer crimes except spamming. The law is much more heavily slanted toward being a tool for the state to restrict public views.

When the government first set out to revise the Computer Crime Act last year, it pledged that the change will not violate people's rights and freedoms. The resulting draft amendment shows anything but an attempt to maintain the promise. The NLA must vote it down.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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