Thailand’s Revised Cyber Crime Act Entrenches Censorship and Oppression
Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Under newly amended article 20(3) of the Cyber Crime Act, online content that is not illegal can be banned and ordered to be deleted by the court, upon the request from a computer data screening committee, appointed by the Minister of Digital Economy and Society. The revised act also cracks down on online privacy.
Thailand is notorious for cracking down on whoever is currently in opposition to a given government, using the 2007 Cyber Crime Act. The newly revised version of the Cyber Crime Act (CCA) further limited the right to freedom of expression, criticism of persons in position of power including government officials, as well as journalists.
Articles 14(1) and (2) of the new law provide grounds for the government to prosecute anything they designate as “false” and, in the case of article 14(1), “distorted” information. The ambiguous wording leaves the doors wide open to abuse regardless of what government is in power.
The broad grounds for offenses “likely to cause damage to the public” under article 14, including “false or partially false” data, “distorted or partially distorted” data, or data likely to “cause public panic” or harm “maintenance of national security, public safety, national economic security, public infrastructure serving the public interest” are bound to result in censorship of journalists and media. What may be worse is the act is bound to increase self-censorship due to fear of prosecution, loss of a job and income, and other of the “normal problems” problems that affect “journalists, worldwide”.
The revised CCA stipulates that service providers including social media platforms will also be required to delete or otherwise prevent the availability of such content following government notification, or they will also be subject to punishment for that content. Moreover, new provisions under articles 16/1 and 16/2 state that the court can order information that is found to be false and having caused damage to other persons or the public to be removed from the Internet and deleted from computer systems.
The arbitrary enforcement of these provisions can seriously limit the population’s freedom to respond to even gross human rights abuses, prevent objective reporting, and in the long term, research into such abuses. One example would be the State-sponsored human rights violations during the 2003 “drug war” under then PM Shinawatra, or any current of future abuse of power by any government regardless of its “color”. Over 3,000 were killed during the so-called war on drugs in 2003.
Most disturbingly, even content that is not “illegal” can be affected under the CCA’s newly amended article 20(3). Such content can now be banned and ordered to be deleted by the court based on a request from a computer data screening committee, appointed by the Minister of Digital Economy and Society, stating the content is considered to be against public order or good morals of the people. One can drive the point home by asking whether Thailand now has planted the seed for a future “moral police”.
Criticizing the monarchy and members of the royal household can be a criminal offense in Thailand. In fairness, no journalist in Denmark who doesn’t self-censor when it comes to the Danish royals will get accreditations that would allow them to get anywhere near members of the royal family, and the same can be said about the UK. The problem in Thailand, however, is more pronounced than self-censorship to get privileged access and accreditations.
In most cases, convictions of those charged with lese majeste result in hefty sentences. Since the May 2014 alone, Thai authorities have charged at least 68 people with lese majeste, mostly for posting or sharing comments online.
Ironically, it’s O.K. in Thailand to post political caricatures about, for example, the Queen of England. A photo or other image of her majesty with the subtitle “God Shave the Queen” is acceptable. Spreading David Icke’s nonsense about the Queen’s reptilian genes is O.K. too. Most people with more than two firing synapses in their brain will laugh about it, and that’s about it, so why would Thailand need such harsh laws?
The United Nations Human Rights Committee is clear and unambiguous with regard to these problems. Speech that is considered insulting, even speech that insults those in position of power, should never be the basis of a criminal prosecution.
Privacy of online communication is also seriously under threat under the new CCA amendments. The amendments expand data collection and other investigatory powers under the act by granting their use in any criminal offense under other laws that involve the use of computer systems, computer data, or devices for carrying out the offense. Internet service providers may be required to retain user data for up to two years in unspecified special cases, an increase from the previous requirement of up to one year. It is a requirement that has equivalents and is “normal” in most countries that usually consider themselves as part of “the free world”, but that doesn’t make such legislation less disturbing.
The new articles 18(2) and (3) continue to allow authorities to access “traffic data” and other user-related data without a court order to assist their investigation of an offense under the CCA or other laws. Article 18(7) also allows authorities with a court order to potentially compel service providers to assist with decrypting encoded data, raising concerns that the law could undermine the use of encryption tools that protect cybersecurity and the privacy of users.
CH/L – nsnbc 22.12.2016