Website managers 'can't fight closures'

Website managers 'can't fight closures'

Webmasters and legal experts say the Computer Crime Act prevents the right to appeal if websites are closed - and new changes will make it worse. (Bangkok Post graphic)
Webmasters and legal experts say the Computer Crime Act prevents the right to appeal if websites are closed - and new changes will make it worse. (Bangkok Post graphic)

Website administrators whose pages are shut down by authorities do not have a fair chance to defend their rights in court, says an academic.

The draft amendment to the Computer Crime Act fails to improve transparency standards regarding the closure of internet pages by law enforcement units, said Sawatree Suksri, a law lecturer at Thammasat University and member of the Nitirat or "Enlightened Jurists" group.

She was speaking Monday at a seminar entitled "Online Media Freedom under the Computer Crime Act", held at the Thai Journalists Association.

According to the current version of the bill, as well as its draft amendment, a court order is necessary to shut down online content. "However, website administrators have no channels through which they can defend themselves or appeal against the decision," she said.

In most cases, state agencies demanding the removal of specific content do not file legal charges against the administrators. They simply gather evidence and forward their request to the court, which will in turn issue an order, she added.

She argued a proper lawsuit was preferable, as it would allow the plaintiff and defendant to battle in court to prove the content's legality, or lack thereof.

A page from the Nitirat website has been blocked for the past two years, Ms Sawatree added. "Still, no formal complaint has been lodged against us."

The page contained a transcript of the Khana Rasadorn's declaration when they abolished the absolute monarchy in Thailand in 1932, which was simply a piece of historical evidence, the lecturer argued.

The group could not appeal against the court's decision because there had been no hearing. As it was a court order rather than an administrative order, they could not file a complaint with the Administrative Court.

"The page has been closed for over two years, for no valid reason. I'm sure the same goes for many other websites," she said.

Section 20 of the amendment sets up a data filtering committee, which would screen online content. If the committee believes the content could be illegal, it will send the complaint to the Information and Communication Technologies minister, who in turn will send it to the court.

Such procedures don't provide a fair chance for website administrators to have their claims heard, agreed Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of the Thai Netizen Network. He said he has seen judges handle hundreds of demands in the span of a few hours. "Those orders are given out quickly, then there's nothing you can do."

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