Almost 10,000 people sign petition against junta’s digital economy bills

Almost 10,000 people have signed a petition urging the junta not to pass the digital economy bills which will give the state unprecedented powers of mass surveillance and control over communications in the name of national security.

Thai Netizen Network, an advocacy group promoting online privacy and internet freedom, opened an online petition on change.org last week to collect names to halt the legislative process of the digital economy bills, which were approved by the junta’s cabinet earlier this month.

More than 5,000 people signed the petition within 24 hours of the page being created.

The Thai Netizen made the following remarks on the digital economy bills:  

Stop sniffing.  Stop the “Cyber Security Bill” – In order to promote the digital economy, freedom of expression must first be protected.

Recently, several bills related to information and communication technology were proposed. The cabinet has approved in principle ten bills in the series. Three more are in the pipeline.

We, the signatories, are concerned that these 10+3 bills violate the rights and liberties of the people and operators in several ways, monopolize resources and do not promote the digital economy as claimed. They are in fact digital security bills. We have the following remarks:  

  • These bills in fact are not about the digital economy, but national security, and bestow vast powers on the authorities.
  • These bills, which will extensively affect people’s lives and the economy, have not been adequately deliberated by either the people or the state authorities.  In particular, the eight bills which were hastily proposed and approved by the cabinet on 6 January 2015 were not on the meeting agenda. Some state agencies have never seen the bills before.
  • There are at least five draft amendments and brand new bills – the amendment of Computer Crime Act, the Cyber Security, Digital Transactions and Inducement Suppression bills, and the amendment of Criminal Procedure bill – which allow the authorities to search, confiscate, have access to and intercept communications without any check and balance from any credible judicial authority and in some cases, these acts can be conducted without strong evidence. This is a violation of freedom of expression, the right to privacy and the right to personal information, and will affect the confidence of the operators of businesses related to information and communication.
  • The draft amendment of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Technology (NBTC) bill destroys the independence of this regulator and may pave the way for the return of radio frequencies into the hands of the government and the military, as was the case before the enactment of 1997 Constitution. This will destroy the principle that radio frequencies are public resources and will also destroy the mechanism of the free market. The objectives of the fund which now derives from the license fee for radio frequencies will be gravely modified. From a fund for research for the public good – promoting consumer protection, social enterprise, professional ethics, accessibility, and media literacy for people with physical challenges, the elderly and the marginalized – it will become a fund for loans to state authorities and the private sector.  
  • The draft amendment of the NBTC does not tackle the problems of transparency and accountability. The bill will establish another agency which has a rather similar financial and administrative structure.
  • All the bills lack a clear mechanism to protect the rights and liberties of consumers. Moreover, no committee has a quota for representatives on rights. The most obvious case is the committee on the protection of personal information under the Protection of Personal Information bill. The three seats for consumer rights representatives were cut and replaced with two seats for national security representatives. They also share a secretariat with the committee on National Cyber Security. The two agencies’ roles are in conflict. This may lead to conflict of interest and a poor check and balance mechanism.

On Saturday, at a public forum on law reform, Surangkana Wayuparb, the Chief Executive Officer of the Electronic Transaction Development Agency (ETDA), told the media that some of the content of the controversial digital economy bills is in error and that the bills are not national security bills as civil society understood.

“We have to accept that with limited time because of the attempt to finish [drafting the bills] before the election along with many other bills and organic laws to be completed, this might cause mistakes [in the Digital Economy Bills] in some issues,” said Surangkana.

“We admit our mistakes, particularly Article 35 of the Cyber Security Bill (CSB), as our working team had to rush the drafting of all 10 bills so we could enforce them before the next general election,” the Bangkok Post quoted Surangkana as saying.

Article 35 of the CBS states that for the purpose of performing their duties under this Act, officials who have been entrusted in writing by the Secretary shall have the following powers:

  • (1) to issue letters asking questions or requesting a state agency or any person to give testimony, submit an explanation in writing, or submit any account, document, or evidence for the purpose of inspection or obtaining information for the benefit of the execution of this Act;
  • (2) to issue letters requesting state agencies or private agencies to act for the benefit of the NCSC’s performance of its duty;
  • (3) to gain access to information on communications, either by post, telegram, telephone, fax, computer, any tool or instrument for electronic media communication or telecommunications, for the benefit of the operation for the maintenance of Cybersecurity.

Implementation under (3) shall be as specified by rules issued by the Council of Ministers.     

In response to a question whether the junta will monopolize the distribution of the radio frequencies, the ETDA director said “I confirm that the government does not intend to intervene with radio frequencies.”

Maj Gen Pichet Kongsri, a member of one of the eight digital economy working groups led by Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, said at the forum in response to many criticisms that the digital economy bills are actually national security bills in disguise. “Currently, as for the ‘national security’ issue that many are concerned about, please interpret this in the wider context which does not imply the national security of the state, but the overall picture of society, politics, economics, and individuals all of which have to be balanced.”