Thai­land seeks to tighten cy­ber se­cu­rity, rais­ing ques­tions about pri­vacy

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Thai­land’s mil­i­tary govern­ment, which has cracked down on on­line dis­sent since seiz­ing power in 2014, is push­ing ahead with cy­ber se­cu­rity bills that rights groups say could mean more ex­ten­sive on­line mon­i­tor­ing, rais­ing con­cerns over pri­vacy pro­tec­tion. Amend­ments to Thai­land’s 2007 Com­puter Crime Act to be con­sid­ered by par­lia­ment next month have come un­der fire from crit­ics who say the bill could give state of­fi­cials sweep­ing pow­ers to spy on in­ter­net users and re­strict on­line speech.

Crit­ics say par­lia­ment is likely to ap­prove the amend­ments be­cause law­mak­ers voted unan­i­mously to pass the bill in its first read­ing. The amend­ments come as the mil­i­tary govern­ment has ramped up on­line censorship since the May 2014 coup, par­tic­u­larly per­ceived in­sults to the royal fam­ily, as it tries to en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion fol­low­ing the death of revered King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej on Oct. 13 and ahead of a 2017 gen­eral elec­tion.

Since the coup, the govern­ment has shut down or blocked thou­sands of web­sites it has deemed of­fen­sive or in­ap­pro­pri­ate. The amend­ments to the cy­ber law, seen by Reuters yes­ter­day, have pro-democ­racy ac­tivists wor­ried that they could lead to ar­bi­trary in­va­sion of pri­vacy with­out a court war­rant.

Sam Zarifi, Asia Di­rec­tor at the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion of Ju­rists (ICJ), a Geneva-based non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion, said the amend­ments would strengthen the govern­ment’s abil­ity to si­lence speech that it deems vi­o­lates Thai­land’s lese-ma­jeste law, a crime that is pun­ish­able by up to 15 years in prison. “This ab­so­lutely curbs free ex­pres­sion,” Zarifi told Reuters.

In the amend­ments, Ar­ti­cles 18 and 19 of the Com­puter Crime Act say state of­fi­cials can ob­tain user and traf­fic data from ser­vice providers with­out court ap­proval and can seize a com­puter de­vice within an un­spec­i­fied time pe­riod. Ar­ti­cle 20 says a web­site that could threaten na­tional se­cu­rity or “of­fend peo­ple’s good morals” can be re­moved or sus­pended. A com­mit­tee would be in charge of flag­ging sus­pi­cious con­tent.

The cur­rent law says of­fi­cials need court ap­proval to re­move con­tent. In a state­ment last month, the ICJ and four other rights groups called for Thai­land’s par­lia­ment, or Na­tional Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly, to re­ject the draft. The Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion has also op­posed the amend­ments.

Mem­bers of the Na­tional Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly de­clined to com­ment on the cy­ber se­cu­rity bills when con­tacted by Reuters. The amend­ments will be fol­lowed by the Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Act and the Per­sonal Data Pro­tec­tion Act, which the govern­ment has ap­proved in prin­ci­ple and aims to pass through par­lia­ment by March.

Ex­perts say the Com­puter Crime Act is a bench­warmer for the more dan­ger­ous Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Act, which would al­low the state to wire­tap phones and com­put­ers with­out ju­di­cial ap­proval.

“These laws are aimed at con­trol­ling on­line me­dia, ac­cess­ing per­sonal data, and when the Cy­ber Se­cu­rity bill is passed, mass sur­veil­lance is a real threat,” said Kanathip Thon­grawee­wong, a data pri­vacy ex­pert at Saint John’s Univer­sity in Bangkok.

Un­der the act, a Na­tional Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee will have the power to or­der any state or pri­vate agency to do any­thing with­out ju­di­cial over­sight.

The com­mit­tee could take down what­ever it wants, said Arthit Suriya­wongkul of the Thai Ne­ti­zen Net­work group, which has cam­paigned against the bills.

Drafts of the bills show the com­mit­tee’s sec­re­tary will also serve as sec­re­tary in the Per­sonal Data Pro­tec­tion Com­mit­tee, rais­ing con­flict of in­ter­est ques­tions. “A com­mit­tee that pro­tects peo­ple’s rights and free­dom should be independent from the state, espe­cially when the state is a po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tor,” said Arthit. — Reuters

SIN­GA­PORE: A man rides a self-driv­ing mo­bil­ity scooter that drives sin­gle pedes­tri­ans along foot­paths.

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