Sudden changes to the Computer Crime Bill spark fears

Alarm has been raised over last minute changes to the controversial Computer Crime Bill that the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will vote on tomorrow. The addition of the ambiguous phrase ‘distorted content’ threatens to broaden the scope of content that could warrant prosecution.
 
 
On 15 December 2016, the NLA agenda included a newly amended draft of the Computer Crime Bill, which aims to give the state greater authority to suppress online content. In Section 14, which bans the distribution of ‘false content’, the phrase ‘distorted computer data’ appears for the first time.
 
Section 14. Any person who commits any offence of the following acts shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht or both:
 
(1)  that involves import to a computer system of forged or distorted computer data, either in whole or in part, or false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage to that third party or the public and not an offence under defamation law of the Criminal Code
 
Concern is that the eleventh hour inclusion of the vague term ‘distorted computer data’ will unreasonably broaden the definition of content deemed illegal under the Computer Crime Bill.
 
Sarinee Achavanuntakul from the Thai Netizen Network (TNN) argues the previous banning of ‘distorted computer data’ under the Referendum Act allowed the junta to arbitrarily silence dissidents who criticised the draft constitution.
 
But the Referendum Act, Sarinee notes, covered only information relevant to the draft charter. If ‘distorted’ online data of any kind is banned, prosecution cases will skyrocket.
 
“It's not any law's job to dictate what's ‘true’, ‘false’ or ‘distorted’ … Any law that tries to do this therefore essentially tries to control thought,” says Sarinee.
 
Questions have also been raised over the justification for changing the wording of the bill. The phrase was not proposed during a forum held by the NLA on 23 November 2016 to collect opinions on the draft bill.
 
Voting on the Computer Crime Bill was postponed from 15 December to 16 December with the circulation of a change.org petition protesting the proposed law that has collected 341, 482 signatures at press time.