Thai Computer Crime Law Raises Rights Concerns

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Amendments to Thailand’s controversial Computer Crime Act were debated in parliament this week, with rights groups expressing concerns that the law will bolster government efforts to restrict online freedoms and spy on users.

The 2007 legislation was originally created to stop spam, identity fraud, hacking and other computer-related offenses.

However, there are fears the military junta will use these new amendments to help in its bid to suppress dissent in the country, which it often does by using the ancient lese-majeste law forbidding criticism of the Royal Family.

The proposed amendments, seen by Reuters, include articles 18 and 19 which say the authorities can grab user and traffic data from service providers without court approval, as well as demand computer devices from users.

Article 20, meanwhile, apparently states that any website deemed to threaten national security or "offend people's good morals" can be removed or suspended.

Although it suggests a committee composed of non-government groups would be in charge of screening such content, the lack of judicial oversight is a concern for many.

Last month, Amnesty International appealed to the global community to express “grave concern” over the new rules.

It warned:

“The proposed amendments still allow for the prosecution and imprisonment of computer users who peacefully express their opinions online as well as internet service providers hosting sites where such opinions are posted. The proposed amendments would also preserve the authorities’ power to conduct invasive surveillance of internet traffic – in some cases without prior judicial authorization – and to suppress electronic content deemed to threaten a variety of vaguely defined state interests.”

The Computer Crime Act amendments are not the only pieces of legislation alarming rights groups in the region.

Experts claim the proposed Cyber Security Act, set for passage through parliament early next year, could sanction state-sponsored mass surveillance.

The UK, of course, has already passed its own version – the Investigatory Powers Act or Snoopers' Charter. This formalizes such surveillance powers for the first time and will force ISPs to retain the internet records of all citizens for up to a year, as well as giving the authorities the power to ban encryption products they can’t hack.

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