Hackers Batter ThaiGov Online as Anger Over Cyberlaw Boils Over

“#Thai police can't guard their own data from #Anonymous, is your data safe with them?’ reads a tweet with a screencap Friday alleging to show data purloined from a police system. Image: @Blackplans / Twitter

BANGKOK — Anger over the passage of the new Computer Crime Act resulted in escalating attacks on many government websites Monday.

The attacks, organized by online activist group Citizens Against Single Gateway, knocked much of ThaiGov offline with attacks continuing into the evening to disable the central site, the Defense Ministry, Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Prime Minister’s Office and Office of the National Security Council.

Citizens Against Single Gateway, organized last year to oppose government control of the internet, was among many to object after junta-appointed legislators passed a law unanimously Friday which gave the authorities more powers to police and censor content online. The law was passed despite opposition from the public and private sectors.

“It was scary that not a single voice in the assembly stood on the people’s side,” Kanathip Thongraweewong, a law lecturer at Saint John’s University, said Monday. “What is going on inside the law-manufacturing factory?”

More than 360,000 people signed a petition opposing the law, which now goes to the king to endorse and becomes effective 120 days after being published in the Royal Gazette.

The regional office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a statement Monday afternoon calling on Bangkok to respect international human rights standards as the law “could severely restrict freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and privacy.”

“The amendments enable the government to obtain user information and traffic data from Internet service providers (ISPs) without court approval,” it read. “Service providers now face the same criminal liability as users of third party online content.”

On Friday, after six hours of discussion, the National Legislative Assembly, or NLA, passed the law with minor changes, such as removing some problematically vague language. The junta-picked members also increased the membership of a committee empowered to censor content from five to nine.

Critics said other concerns raised by activists, the business community and internet users remained unaddressed.

For their part, authorities have said throughout the process that the law would not be abused and it was a misunderstanding to believe otherwise.

Latest Product of Junta’s ‘Law Factory’

For now there are no democratic mechanisms for people to challenge the law, legal expert Kanathip said, as the interim constitution does not allow people to petition against the law.

The public must wait for a new constitution to be in effect and gather the 10,000 names necessary to propose an amendment.

“But even after that, the proposal would still go to the NLA for consideration again,” he said.

Kanathip suggested another lawful approach would complaining to the Constitutional Court that the new Computer Crime Act is against the basic rights and freedom guaranteed even by the junta’s interim charter.

The law professor pointed out the Computer Crime Act was just an example of the junta’s “made-to-order law factory” which has and will continue to pass hundreds of new laws under the direction of the military running the country.

“The Computer Crime Act problem looks a lot smaller compared to the hundreds of other laws they are passing that will also affect our lives for decades,” Kanathip said.

Since the military seized power in 2014, 238 bills have come up for review, according to an NLA database.

Online Escalation

Friday’s decision by the rubber-stamp assembly upset netizens and resulted in many reactions online.

To demonstrate the government’s incompetent handling of computer data, a hacker associating himself with the international Anonymous collective tweeted pictures said to show the penetration of government servers.

The Citizens Against Single Gateway group announced Sunday it would advance its so-called “cyber war” on the government starting Tuesday.

It was unclear what methods were being used to knock the sites offline, in the past, crude forms of denial-of-service attacks consisted of coordinated refreshing of hosted pages. Forums associated with online dissidents suggested their methods were now more sophisticated.

Top government figures and police responded by warning such actions were illegal.

Deputy police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen said Friday they could be punished with up to five years in prison or a 100,000 baht fine under, appropriately enough, the existing 2007 Computer Crime Act.

Nine people gathered Sunday in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre to protest the law.

People protest against passage of the new Computer Crime Act on Sunday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.
People protest against passage of the new Computer Crime Act on Sunday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said Monday the law was an improvement over the original 2007 bill. He also reiterated that it has nothing to do with enabling the government to go forward with a “single gateway” project to route all traffic through a single point of control.

On the contrary, he said the law balanced the powers granted to authorities by requiring court review.

“I insist the process of taking down computer information in many countries is weaker than Thailand,” he said. “The NLA is willing to open discussions with those opposed about how the law is against rights and freedoms.”

Amnesty International Thailand said despite weighing in and petitioning for amendment at every stage of the law’s drafting, its concerns were ignored.

“Because it’s already passed, what we can do now is monitor the effect of law enforcement,” Amnesty Thailand President Piyanut Kotsan said Monday.