Computer Crime amendments further the vagueness of its rudiments

The “Computer Crimes Act” of Thailand was amended this year to change, add, and remove various aspects. Although many articles have been amended, and even improved in some cases, there are still  critical issues found within the current and proposed legislation.

The amendment was completed on 26 April 2016 and is currently in its second reading in the legislative process. As the usage of the internet develops, so too must the legalities of how the internet is used. Although this act creates more legal framework to be followed, it also provides more right infringements, and neglects to improve issues of prior versions, which in many instances lead to further restricted rights online.

Section 11 has seen additions of an anti-spam-like provision by stating there is to be an opt out clause in transferred data and e-mails that may be unwanted by the recipient. The one paragraph provision is written as a person to person data transfer. There is no talk about other online actors, what the content may or may not be, or what the ‘opt-out’ clause must look like. For perspective, Canadian anti-spam legislation alone, is made up of 96 sections.

The highly controversial section 14 could see some improvement with these amendments. Currently, the legislation makes it possible, for example, that any dissenting or critical idea posted online, even in something as simple as a Facebook comment, could get a user charged up to five years in prison for spreading false computer data which will damage a third party.

The amendment removes the damages to a third party aspect and adds that there must be ill or fraudulent intent, which is a good start, but still leaves users with a vast gray area of what can acceptably be posted online, and serves as the junta’s tool of online suppression against internet user’s freedom of expression.

The amendments to section 15 focus on if a service provider (SP) “cooperates, consents or acquiesces” an offense in section 14, which make the article much worse. For online rights, it means that news sites, for example, can be charged the same sentence as an author of critical political material if it appears on the site, which is a limitation of press freedom.

Furthermore, since the same could happen for social media platforms, as a safeguard, it may require platforms to increase monitoring of their users, which continues to degrade the rights of netizens.

After future legislation is made, the SP, if accused of a section 15, will have the ability to prove that is it was in compliance with the legislation, the charges will be dropped. That however means that the burden of truth is placed on the accused, the SP, rather than on the accuser.

Section 16 discusses possession and publically sharing of edited, created photos which could be used to defame a person, and with the new amendments, dead persons as well.

The addition of 16(2) could be the most problematic as it make possible the ability to charge someone for not only the possession of the image, but also having the knowledge of someone else possessing the image and not going out of one’s way to destroy such data. Basically, if this amendment passes, it will become the responsibility of users to begin to police other users on and offline.

16(1) grants the government permission to seize and destroy the data, which is seemingly redundant given that the proposed amendments to article 20 would already grant that ability.

Proposed amendments to article 20 would provide the government with the ability to remove, in addition to suppress, content online even if it is not illegal. What is worse is 20(4) proposes the establishment of a five member committee, selected by the government, solely to monitor computer data and file requests to enact section 20. Hundreds of these requests can be approved in a couple hours, says Arthit Suriyawongkul, Coordinator of Thai Netizen Network, as quoted by the Bangkok Post.      

On Thursday, 6 July 2016, Thai Netizen Network submitted a petition to Peerasak Porjit, Deputy President of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), urging the authorities to halt the process to pass the amended version of the Computer-Related Crime Act because it will further limit freedom of expression, violate the right to privacy and restrict access to information. The petition has been signed by 40,000 people.