Computer law critics mull charter court fight

Computer law critics mull charter court fight

Repeat petitions threat if law goes too far

After legislators rejected their online petition and Prime Minister Prayut refused to discuss amendments, activists are considering challenging the Computer Crime Act 2016 to the Constitutional Court. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
After legislators rejected their online petition and Prime Minister Prayut refused to discuss amendments, activists are considering challenging the Computer Crime Act 2016 to the Constitutional Court. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Critics of the new Computer Crimes Act are threatening to challenge the law change in the Constitutional Court.

They say the change in the law endangers their rights and freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution, and hopes the court will step in.

Yingcheep Atchanont, a project manager at the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), said court action would be better than asking Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to exercise his sweeping power under Section 44 of the interim constitution to abrogate the law, as some critics have demanded.

Mr Yingcheep was referring to calls on Saturday by Democrat Party deputy leader Ong-art Klampaiboon for the premier to overturn the act.

He said, however, his group will keep a close watch on the law and expects the court to keep its enforcement in check to prevent any violation of rights under the new constitution.

"What's done is done, but there is still a channel to petition the court to interpret the law. Whenever the law is not enforced properly we will petition the court," Mr Yingcheep said during a panel discussion at Thammasat University on Sunday.

He also said the group was concerned that Paragraph 1 of Section 14 of the amended Computer Crime Act will be exploited as a tool to silence critics of the government.

He referred to the term "distortions" included in the provision, saying it could be used to pursue defamatory action.

Mr Yingcheep said more than 300,000 people had signed a petition against the law, which was a positive sign that people attach importance to issues of freedom of expression.

Sarinee Achavanantakul, a founder of the Thai Netizen Network (TNN), said even though the amended law has passed the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), ministerial regulations are still needed to enforce the law, which will take another 120 days.

She said she hoped by that time the government would have held forums for the public to offer their views on the law again.

She also called attention to several bills, which are awaiting deliberaton by the NLA, such as a bill on cyber security, a bill on the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and a bill on personal information protection.

"A close watch must be kept on these bills as there might be some conflicts of interest," she said.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) member, said the NHRC was most concerned about how the proposed cyber screening panel will define and judge what is right or wrong under the law.

One of the key changes made to the law calls for the creation of a nine-member committee to screen computer information, she said. The committee can recommend that officials seek a court order which grants them permission to remove or block content even if it does not violate any law but is considered a breach of "public morals", she said.

She questioned how the public will be able to scrutinise the panel if they feel they are treated unfairly.

She said the terms "national security" and a "breach of good morality" as stipulated by the amended law are too broad and violate the principles of basic rights. Ms Angkhana said the NHRC and foreign human rights bodies had urged the NLA to remove the terms national security and a breach of good morality in many laws, but to no avail.

Orapin Yingyongpattana, a representative of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), voiced concern that Section 14 of the computer crime law would lead to self-censorship among the media and journalists because the law is vague.

This would adversely affect the media's freedom to present information. "Those in power who sue may not want to win their cases, just silence [their critics]," Ms Orapin said.

Thitirat Thipsamritkul, a Thammasat University law lecturer, urged the government to reduce ambiguities in the law, saying future interpretations and enforcement of the law could stray from its original intentions.

Enacting such a restrictive law will have enforcement problems in the future, she said.

Undeterred, government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Sunday the government will step up efforts to deal with computer crimes and false information spread on the internet, and vowed the amended Computer Crime Act must be enforced.

"The hacking attacks on several government websites over the past week have accelerated the process to implement the law," Lt Gen Sansern said.


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