New Junta Cyber Law Ripe For Abuse: Judge

A DSI officer inspects a computer seized during a 2016 raid on a gambling den in Pattani province.

BANGKOK — The junta’s rubberstamp parliament on Thursday passed a law intended to protect online infrastructure that critics fear is open to abuses.

The first such legislation, the Cybersecurity Act calls for two commissions consisting of IT officials and military officers to monitor threat levels, improve security and blunt attacks on private and public entities. The bill was passed 133-0 after a two hours of debate.

The law also allows the new body to bypass the court and take unilateral action in the event of a “critical threat” against the country, raising concern the vague clause could be broadly interpreted to shut down legitimate criticism.

“It might be my pessimistic interpretation,” internet freedom advocate Arthit Suriyawongkul wrote online. “But based on past experience, I think it’s reasonable to expect the worst-case scenarios.”

Even a senior judge spoke out against the draft. Appeals Court judge Sriamporn Salikup told the media last week that the cybersecurity bill appears to “prioritize government security over the freedoms and liberties of the people.” He also warned that the legislation lacks clear checks and balances.

“It’s at the risk of causing severe damage to the liberty and freedom of the people, as I have already expressed concerns many times,” Sriamporn said.

#CyberCrime was trending on Twitter shortly after the news was announced.

Section 59 defines critical threats as attacks that could cripple the national infrastructure, cause massive damage to computer systems, spark widespread unrest or allow acts of terrorism to take place.

Events that force the authorities to enact “urgent measures” in order to defend the monarchy are also defined as critical threats in the same section.

Most worrying for rights activists is a provision that allows officials to take action without seeking court approval. Under the law, the authorities can resort to a wide range of powers, from seizing computers to entering facilities believed to be aiding in a perceived threat.

Rights advocates say the military government has already weaponized other security-related laws to crack down on free speech and activism.

Just earlier this month, a leader of the anti-junta Future Forward Party was charged with cyber crimes for allegedly spreading false info in his criticism of the regime.

A woman was arrested in 2015 after police identified her as being behind rumors on social media that Prayuth had transferred over 10 billion baht to a personal bank account in Singapore. The court acquitted her in 2018, saying her actions did not affect national security.