Lawmakers Warn of Abuse of Power if Wiretapping Law Passes

The National Legislative Assembly meets Thursday in Bangkok. Photo: Prachachat
The National Legislative Assembly meets Thursday in Bangkok. Photo: Prachachat

BANGKOK — The president of the anti-corruption commission on Thursday played down concerns about proposed wiretapping legislation that could infringe on internet privacy by saying 80 other countries had passed similar laws.

The junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly, or NLA, began debating the amendment to Article 37/1 of the organic law on anti-corruption Thursday before calling a recess at 5pm. It will likely vote tomorrow after resuming the debate at 9am.

Commission leader police Gen. Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit told the NLA that the National Anti-Corruption Commission, or NACC, needs “tools” to apprehend politicians thought to be engaged in corruption.

Some lawmakers and pro-democracy activists expressed concerns about potential abuse of power and said the law would contribute to a climate of fear.

“Don’t use the word wiretapping. It’s repulsive. It’s just [spying on] Line [social media application],” Watcharapol told the parliament. “The NACC has no intention to violate people’s rights. Eighty countries have such law. Singapore and Malaysia have it even Cambodia has some [similar] measures.”

Under the proposed amendment, the NACC is required to ask for permission from the Criminal Court, Watcharapol added.

The proposal would allow wire-tapping and internet spying for up to a period of 90 days per each request made to the court.

“Don’t worry [about possible abuses],” Watcharaphon said, adding that the whole NACC has to vote and decide before seeking court permission and that no one wants to go to prison for abusing their power.

But critics said the proposal, which will enable the NACC to intercept telephone lines and eavesdrop on all types of communications – including the internet and social media – of suspected corrupt officials and politicians could be abused.

Pro-democracy activists Thursday expressed concerns about the move, saying such important decision should have been deferred until there is an elected parliament.

“There should have been more thorough deliberation and public consultation,” said Yingcheep Atchanont, program manager at iLaw, a non-profit group specializing in legal reform and human rights.

Yingcheep said he’s not against the move per se but the decision should be passed by an elected parliament, not a junta-appointed parliament.

“It should be considered by a legitimate parliament that represents the people,” he said.

Rangsiman Rome, founder of Democracy Restoration Group, said he’s concerned about not just the lack of legitimacy of the NLA but the possible abuse of the power by the NACC.

While the issue of legitimacy wasn’t raised in parliament, Thursday saw a few junta-appointed NLA members voicing opposition.

Opponents are found even among some members of the NLA as well as members of its special committee vetting the proposed amendment.

NLA member Montian Boontan warned that such power given to the NACC will create a climate of fear in society.

“The result will be the creation of a climate of fear. It’s not just Line [application], but mail, telephone, everything. It’s a sensitive human rights issue. It will create fear among people… Please withdraw the motion because damage beyond our ability to conceive,” he said.

“It risks unnecessary violation of privacy,” said Jade Dhonavanik, a minority voice of the NLA special committee vetting the proposed amendment, on Thursday afternoon, adding that it would lead to a climate of fear. “Political office holders are in contact with many people.”

Another opponent, NLA member Somchai Sawaengkarn, warned that future NACC may not be trustworthy and that power could be abused. He said, such power to spy is dangerous and could be used for blackmail.

He warned that such power, if granted, will be criticized by the international community for human rights violations.

Wallop Tangkananuwat, another NLA member said the proposed power is dangerous.

“Although we were not elected. We have the conscience to not pass laws that would unnecessarily allow a law that violates human rights,” said Wallop, urging for a recess shortly before 5pm and to withdraw the motion.