Consumer rights activists raise alarm on MICT’s digital economy bills

A civil society organisation for consumers has urged the Thai authorities not to pass the digital economy bills, which will give the state unprecedented control over communications and the internet, before public revision.

Suwanna Jitprapas, advisor to the Foundation for Consumers, on Tuesday condemned the plan of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) to sidestep public participation by submitting to the cabinet a set of digital economy bills, one of which is a draft amendment of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

According to Suwanna, the bills will be submitted to the cabinet for consideration on Tuesday.

The digital economy bills are a set of 13 proposed bills involving the establishment of a state organization to deal with all kinds of electronic transactions, 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”, and the restructuring of the NBTC.

Suwanna said the MICT submission of the proposed bills showed a ‘lack of vision’ because the bills would allow the state to monopolise communication frequencies and would significantly compromise the independence of the NBTC, which would contravene the 2007 NBTC bill.

She pointed out that although various comments and debates on the digital economy bills were made on many civil society forums, the MICT still failed to touch upon the main problems in the draft bills.

Most importantly, the digital economy bills do not answer to public needs and offer no consumer protection because they have not taken public participation into account, the Foundation for Consumers’ advisor summarised.

“The fact that the MICT ignores public participation and brings these bills to the cabinet is against the national reform agenda, which must emphasise public participation in every public process,” said Suwanna.

In January, six civil organisations, 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 the digital economy bills.

The statement said that the content of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) bill, one of the 13, 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.

Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of the Thai Netizen Network, also pointed out that there are also no mechanisms to ensure transparency and no guarantee that the bills would benefit marginalised groups in Thai society. Moreover, the bills obviously do not include mechanisms to protect human rights and consumer rights.