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Thailand: Cyber Crime Law Amended by Legislature

(Dec. 23, 2016) On December 16, 2016, Thailand’s Parliament approved an amendment to the country’s Computer Crime Act of 2007 by a unanimous vote.  It will soon be sent to King Maha Vajiralongkorn for his endorsement.  (Ram Eachambadi, Thailand Parliament Passes Controversial Cyber Crime Legislation, PAPER CHASE (Dec. 17, 2016); Thailand’s Cybercrime Act Amendment (26 Apr 2016) Bilingual (Draft Amendment)), THAI NETIZEN (last visited Dec. 20, 2016) (bilingual draft  text of amendments); Computer Crime Act, B.E 2550 (2007), PRACHATAI (unofficial English translation).)

The changes include the creation of a five-person committee empowered to ask a court to delete online content considered offensive to the country’s morals.  (Eachambadi, supra; Draft Amendment, § 20.)  According to the Thai advocacy group Thai Netizen Network, under the revised law a sentence of five years of imprisonment can be given for putting “false information into a computer system that jeopardises national security, public safety, national economic stability or public infrastructure, or causes panic.”  (Eachambadi, supra; Draft Amendment, § 14.)  Thai Netizen Network has been described as “a leading nonprofit organisation in Thailand that advocates for digital rights and civil liberties.”  (Thai Netizen Network, Association for Progressive Communications website (last visited Dec. 20, 2016).

Reactions

The day before the Parliament took action, the Thai Netizen Network submitted a petition to the government opposing the amended Computer Crimes Act; there were 300,000 signatures of individuals who felt the amendment infringed on human rights.  A representative of another group, iLaw, noted that “[b]locking websites and persecuting critics … will make us unable to criticize the government at all.” (Eachambadi, supra.)  ILaw describes itself as “a non-profit organization with an aim to create Social Reform by increasing public participation and demand for legislative change.”  (About Us, iLaw website (last visited Dec. 21, 2016).)

In addition to concerns about censorship, the Thai Netizen Network and others have expressed the fear that the law would be used to justify obtaining personal information about individuals.  (Thai Netizens Say No to Restrictive Computer Crime Act, COCONUTS BANGKOK (Dec. 15, 2016).)  Thai Netizen Network spokesperson Arthit Suriyawongkul elaborated on the group’s concerns, pointing out that the law does not define what content would be injurious to public morals and that “[i]t’s going to be very difficult for people to know what they can and cannot say.  It could also be very inconsistent from one government to another.”  (Eachambadi, supra.)

In response to the criticism, the law’s supporters have argued that innocent people have nothing to fear.  Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha defended the law as being needed to control the flow of “inappropriate” information from abroad, especially communications that defame the monarchy.  (Thai Netizens Say No to Restrictive Computer Crime Act, supra.)