Digital economy bills slammed as 'security laws'

Digital economy bills slammed as 'security laws'

Ten bills being enacted in support of the digital economy have raised concerns among some scholars, online communities and IT experts who criticised they serve national security purposes rather than economic ones.

Paiboon Amornpinyokiat, a computer-law academic, said the latest revision of a bill removed the exception that allows media to report issues of interest.

Critics say these bills violate the freedom and liberties of people in several areas. They monopolise national resources and are clearly aimed at tightening the grip on "security".

"The agenda are clearly reflected in the bills, which give the state more power to allocate resources, as well as in the composition of several committees to be set up. Representatives from the public are replaced by security officers," members of six social organisations said at a discussion on the bills on Wednesday.

"These bills are not 'digital economy' laws as claimed. They are basically security laws," the meeting concluded, according to Thai Netizen Network.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) bill, in particular, aims to put frequencies back into the hands of the state and the military like before the 1997 constitution, the meeting said.

Poramate Minsiri, a Thailand internet pioneer, questioned the boundless power of the cybersecurity commission, which can order both government agencies and the private sector "to do or not to do anything".

The fact that cybersecurity officials can tap phones or any devices without the need for court order could compromise confidence of foreign investors, who will not appreciate such legal tapping, he said.

Wasant Liewlompaisarn of Blognone.com, an IT professional community, pointed out: "Such tapping can be done on all communication methods — from snail mail to all types of communication devices.

"I wish us all good luck," he said.

Thai Netizen Network pointed out the change in the composition of the privacy protection commission from the previous version of the bill.

"The director general of the Justice Ministry's Rights and Liberties Protection Department has been replaced by the National Security Council's chief in the cabinet version.

"Commissioners on consumer protection were not endorsed either and the composition of experts was changed in the cabinet revision from half from the private sector in the previous version," it said on its website.

Sutthichai Pokai-udom, an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, said his team had invited the bill drafters and Council of State officials for talks and asked them to remove the provisions that violate privacy and to add a clause that a court order must be sought first.

"Individual and media rights must be protected. The search of and access to private data need court orders because we don't want officials or the government to have too much power. I believe in the end these laws will be revised in line with privacy, rights and freedom. The government wants the private sector to lead the drive while it will provide only the infrastructure," said Mr Sutthichai, the information and communication technology minister in the 2006 coup-installed cabinet.

Another issue of concern involves the new NBTC bill in which the new national digital commission, to be chaired by the prime minister, will determine which frequencies are for security, public or commercial use. Only those for commercial use will be managed by the NBTC. 

The bill also stipulates that winners of commercial frequencies will be “selected”, which may not necessarily be done through bidding and the subjective "beauty contest" method may be used.    

The cabinet approved eight bills on Jan 6, bringing to 10 the number of bills to be enforced in support of digital economy development, an initiative expected to materialise this year.

The government said the laws aimed to protect individual rights in the digital era. Such information includes personal records on education, finance, health, crime, work, activity and identifiers such as IDs, finger prints and voice prints, including those of the deceased.

The previous two bills endorsed by the government on Dec 16, 2014 are those on the establishment of the National Digital Commission for the Economy and Society and on ministerial restructuring.

One of the eight bills approved on Jan 6 are those on the setup of a revolving fund to finance research and development to be lent to government agencies, the private sector and people.

Another designates the NBTC to lay down policies on radio frequency use for broadcasting and telecommunication in line with the digital economy blueprint.

The bill also combines the telecom and broadcasting committees into the NBTC and requires that the NBTC submit half of its licence fees to the digital development fund.

The electronic transactions bill revises the job descriptions of the Electronic Transactions Development Agency, a public organisation, to work alongside the private sector in building digital infrastructure and keep related laws up to date.

The new computer crime bill sets up a national cybersecurity commission to manage online attacks and security.

The privacy protection bill sets up a committee to protect privacy and combine existing laws.

The digital economy promotion bill sets up a public organisation to supervise and push digital projects.

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