Police state not wanted
As academics and activists held talks in Bangkok last weekend to reflect on lessons learned from the state's suppression of dissidents that led to the Oct 6, 1976, massacre, Digital Economy and Society (DE) Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta and the police, at the same time, were busy executing their new crusade against "inappropriate" online content.
This clampdown over the past week has resulted in the arrest of a young political activist, followed by Mr Buddhipongse's quest for "cooperation" from cafes, shops and restaurants to store information on internet use by their sit-in customers for at least 90 days.
This campaign comes after the minister's earlier pledge to purge social media of royal insults. It is an online crusade marked by what appear to be harsh and extreme measures. This is worrying. Such a hard-line approach could cause tensions across society and be open to abuse.
The 25-year-old political activist, Karn Pongpraphapan, was arrested on Monday on a charge of violating the Computer Crime Act (CCA), which punishes anyone "uploading computer data that affects national security" with up to five years in prison.
According to the minister, the charge stems from Mr Karn's "inappropriate" Facebook post last week during which there was an "inappropriate" hashtag on Thai-language Twitter about recent traffic congestion in the capital allegedly held up by a royal motorcade.
His Facebook post drew "inappropriate" comments and shares by netizens, which could have upset a number of people, said Mr Buddhipongse.
The young man's lawyer said the Facebook post was about historical events in Russia, France and Germany and the charge seems to be the result of a perceived link to the Twitter hashtag.
The Criminal Court has granted him bail on the condition he will not post similar messages again.
Mr Karn is among the young political activists who have advocated democracy and protested against military rule since the 2014 coup.
Over time, the clash of political ideologies between the pro- and anti-military groups has become rampant on the internet, resulting in online witchhunts and even fake news produced to target their opponents.
Similarly, Mr Karn's lawyer claimed his client's post has been twisted by others to frame his client.
Violent political confrontations over past decades including the 1976 massacre should serve as a warning to the minister that bringing a national security charge against Mr Karn could pave the way for others to try to frame or take political revenge on their opponents.
Additionally, the national security breach defined by the CCA is too broad. That means the campaign could be prone to abuse by both authorities and netizens.
Mr Karn has removed his post and deleted his Facebook account but more people could become targets of this crusade. Police are still considering whether to bring charges against those who commented on or shared his post.
Additionally, the DE minister's move to ask businesses to store data on their customers' internet use is also concerning. It will impose a burden on the operators. It is also online surveillance of their customers, breaching their privacy.
The DE ministry should rather adopt a moderate approach to "inappropriate" online content by making requests to those who posted them to take the content down voluntarily. There is no need to try to have them locked up.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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