BANGKOK — Those tasked with rewriting the national cybercrime law on Wednesday dismissed suspicions the process was being used to revive a project to route and control internet traffic through a single gateway.
Speaking at Parliament House, drafters said recently introduced language that would open a backdoor for authorities to directly censor content was not part of bringing back the controversial project digital rights activists suspect is still moving forward.
“There are currently comments on the internet that this could be another origin of the single gateway due to some management processes written into the law,” said Surangkana Wayuparb, who directs a public e-commerce development agency and spokeswoman for the committee revising the 2007 Computer Crime Act. She said that was a misunderstanding of regulations intended to integrate the work of different agencies.
Dozens of attendees drawn from government organizations, rights groups and the private sector voiced doubts and anxieties at was to be the last chance for public input on the process of rewriting the decade-old law’s flaws. In return they were told not to worry about the letter of the law but put trust in its intent.
Read: Why Thailand Should Worry About an Improved(?) Computer Crime Act
At the hearing, most concerns were raised about the law’s problematic Article 14, which has a long record of being used to stifle expression. A representative from the Technology Crime Suppression Division said he’s received more than 1,400 complaints filed under the article this year alone.
Drafters insisted changes were made in the latest draft out Friday to restore its original purpose of combating phishing, scamming and identity theft.
“After this amendment, Article 14(1) can no longer be used for defamation offenses,” said Paiboon Amonpinyokeat, a lawyer specializing in cyber law who helped with the drafting process. “If somebody files a complaint using this article, it can’t be used to file any charges.”
Those assertions did little to relieve concerns expressed by members of the public, who said the article’s language was still too broad and thus ripe for ongoing abuse.
As examples of this, representatives from Human Rights Watch and Isra News pointed out times their websites were shut down on the grounds they instigated unrest or were deemed threats to national security.
Paiboon said he understood the problem but denied the fault was in the law’s language.
“I really can’t help with the wrong use by law enforcement,” he said.
Targets Content, Not Crime
When it came to Article 20, which in Friday’s draft gave authorities more causes for censoring content, the drafters said people should place faith in the judgment of a committee of appointees which would provide oversight.
Under the revised Article 20/1, law enforcement authorities could move to censor content not only deemed a threat to national security, but anything considered “contrary to public order or good morals.”
The police major general heading the drafting committee acknowledged that they did not define just what “content contrary to public order or good morals” was, but said people should put their faith in the five appointees who would review such cases before they go to a court.
“Two out of the five committee members will be from the private sector,” Maj. Gen. Chatchaval Suksomjit said. “They will help consider in many dimensions, and the last step is the court. So that assures that they won’t just block whatever they want.”
Speaking before the hearing, a law professor from Saint John’s University noted Tuesday that widening the range of offenses covered by the Computer Crime Act would make the law lose its way.
“The legal system will be ruined if every offense related to computers are dragged under the Computer Crime Act,” Kanathip Thongraweewong said.
As written now, Kanathip said, the law would be a significant break from international legal norms by targeting content instead of criminality.
Along with speakers concerned about their rights were those worried about their bottom lines.
Representatives from the private sector, including DTAC and Line Thailand, came to express worries about many unclear regulations involving service providers, and the legality of the process for removing content.
The law only applies to Thai service providers, which Poomjit Sirawongprasert of the Thai Hosting Service Providers Club said put them at a competitive disadvantage with foreign companies.
“People then won’t want to host their website in Thailand,” she said.
Paiboon responded by saying supporting laws already indemnified ISPs or mobile operators from legal action unless they actively disseminated the content themselves.
The majority of work revising the law is complete, but drafters said they would consider today’s comments into the final amendment process.
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