Thai junta’s Digital Economy bills are national security bills in disguise: rights groups

Six civil organizations denounced the eight Digital Economy bills recently approved by the junta, saying they are national security bills in disguise and that the bill will pave the way for a state monopoly of the telecommunication business.

Six civil organizations, Thai Netizen NetworkFTA WatchFoundation for Community Education Media (FCEM)Green World FoundationPeople’s Media Development Institute, and Thailand Association for the Blind (TAB) issued a joint  statement against the junta cabinet’s approval of eight bills on the digital economy on Wednesday.

Last week, the junta’s cabinet approved in principle eight proposed bills which were claimed to prepare Thailand for the “digital economy”. The groups said they were in fact designed to restructure and tighten control of telecommunications and the internet in Thailand.

The junta-appointed parliament earlier passed a law to change the title of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES). The MDES will be the main agency overseeing the “digital economy”.

The proposed series of bills involve the establishment of a state organization to deal with all kinds of electronic transactions and the creation of a National Committee for Cyber Security, an organization which can conduct mass surveillance on every means of communication in the name of “national security”.

Despite the junta’s rhetoric that the bills would speed the development of the digital economy of the country, the six rights groups said in their statement that the real purpose of these bills is merely to tighten national security and the state monopoly over telecommunication resources.

The junta also attempted to reduce the participation of civil society by cutting the quotas of civil society representatives on the committees to be established under the bills and instead increase the quotas of government officials, the groups said.

Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of the Thai Netizen Network, gave an example of this worrying trend. He said in the proposed Protection of Personal Information Bill, which has existed in draft form for several years, three representatives from the related civil society organizations were originally to be appointed to the Committee on Protection of Personal Information. The junta cut the quota of civil society representatives and replaced them with people from national security agencies.    

There is also no mechanism to ensure transparency and no guarantee that the bills would benefit the marginalised groups in Thai society, said Arthit, adding that the bills obviously do not include mechanisms to protect human rights and consumer rights.

The group added that instead of bringing progress to the digital economy, the bills would bring about the opposite.

“The content of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) Bill is meant to bring [satellite] frequencies back under the control of the state and military, which is similar to what existed prior to the enactment of the 1997 Constitution,” stated the joint statement.

The group stated that they will submit petitions to the Nation Reform Council (NRC) and the Council of State to point out the flaws in the Digital Economy bills.  

 

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