Computer law out of touch

Computer law out of touch

There is hardly a better illustration of the difference between the intent of a law and its misuse than the Computer Crime Act of 2007. It was sold by its sponsors as a modern law to deal with new crimes. It was meanwhile tweaked and amended behind the scenes by a parliament both friendly and indebted to the military junta. Virtually sight unseen, it was speeded through rubber-stamp assent, without public disclosure of details, and without public input.

It turned out that the Computer Crime Act (CCA) was almost the opposite of what the military-approved leadership promised. It did nothing to halt spam email, failed to deter cyber crime, and set no standards to protect online consumers. It did, however, vastly increase prosecutions and penalties for lese majeste.

The worst of the worst offences of this terrible law is its Orwellian nature. The "computer crime" the bill seeks out and punishes is almost totally divorced from computers. The small and often ignored sections on theft by hacking, for example, are most often investigated and prosecuted under "old" sections of the criminal code.

The CCA is used shamelessly by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology as a censorship tool. Thousands of websites are routinely declared offensive or obscene and placed on the massive list of sites to be blocked. Censorship under the CCA, contrary to the constitution, is entirely non-transparent.

The CCA, far from presenting a legal bulwark against technologically savvy criminals, actually creates a new and suspiciously convenient criminal out of entirely honest and well-meaning citizens. For example, the employee of an internet service provider who fails to notice an attempted theft is a criminal. A newspaper editor and his webmaster both are subject to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment if a comment in an online forum is somehow offensive.

These turn both logic and all past laws on their heads. Until the CCA was passed, a carrier or conduit was not responsible for communications. The post office, for example, and the telephone companies, are not responsible for what is in the letters or conversations they carry. But under the CCA, editors and webmasters are fully responsible for such communications.

If the CCA turns justice upside down, it is also a serious threat to the national economy. A seminar last week involving academics and computer experts agreed that the CCA is a deterrent to investment, innovation, aggressive entrepreneurship and foreign investment. With employees and managers responsible for the words of others, there are few who wish to dive into a cutting-edge communications venture.

It is time for the government to take a stand against this unfair and arbitrary law which was passed by the junta-installed parliament without public opportunity for examination. It is also much abused and misused. In its charter rewrite mission, the government supposedly wants to make the supreme law more democratic. It should also consider a rewrite of the Computer Crime Act.

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