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Thai Media Groups Reject ‘Internet Censorship’ Bill

Protesters hold up a banner demanding a reform in Article 112 or the Lese Majeste (anti-royal insult) law. Thousands of websites are blocked in Thailand by invoking Article 112. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (2/5/2012)

Protesters hold up a banner demanding a reform in Article 112 or the Lese Majeste (anti-royal insult) law. Thousands of websites are blocked in Thailand by invoking Article 112. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (2/5/2012)

Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) wants to revise the Computer Crime Act of 2007 but several media groups in the country are opposing changes to the law.

The ICT claims that reforming the law is necessary to curb the growing menace of cybercrime but critics fear it would lead to greater online censorship.

On October 24, five media groups in Bangkok issued a joint statement rejecting the amendments drafted by the Ministry. They include the Thai Journalists Association, Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association, Online News Providers Association, Information Technology Reporters and Academic Specialists on Computer Law Group.

The amendments would further tighten the Computer Crime Act (CCA), a law that has been widely criticized for its harsh penalties for various kinds of online speech. It includes the lèse majesté law under which several netizens have been imprisoned for criticizing the king online.

Among proposed amendments to the CCA is a measure that would allow authorities to block websites without seeking prior approval from a court and the ICT Minister. Under the current law, authorities cannot have sites blocked without a court order.

Media groups speaking out against the amendments to the CCA are particularly opposed to this amendment, calling it a violation of the people’s right to information. Further, they have demanded that the government drop the draft proposal as it “lacks standards of training for responsible officials and grants excessive power to the authorities.” The groups added that the bill goes “against Internet communication infrastructure” and places disproportionate burdens on “website operators, Internet and mobile phone service providers, and Internet users.”

Some Thai journalists are in favor of amending the controversial CCA, but for different reason. An editorial in the Bangkok Post derided the 2007 law, arguing that it has become a tool for harassing government critics and must be scaled back:

[The CCA] is the basis for massive internet censorship, sometimes compared with that of China. It has imprisoned people to longer terms than parallel, non-computer laws allow. And it has almost never been used for the purpose it was supposedly introduced for.

[...]

There is no longer even an estimate of the number of websites and pages closed or blocked by (the ICT) ministry. Certainly it is well into six figures. The ICT minister, using opaque and unaccountable appeals to a court, can effectively block any website from standard online access, without accountability, appeal or even the knowledge of those involved.

The editorial argued that the government should shift its focus back to the original intent of the law, which was to prevent online financial crimes such as phishing and identity theft.

Supporting the five Thai media groups is Reporters Without Borders, which cautioned the government not to approve the amendments and to “withdraw the legislation in its entirety.”

The bill – in addition to eliminating a requirement for a judicial warrant to block a website – would allow that action without approval from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, thereby distancing the law even more from international standards.

In response, the ICT claims that because the proposed amendments have gone through public consultations, there should be no controversy over their passage.

The Thai government meanwhile is facing massive public pressure to shelf a bill of law that would grant blanket amnesty to politicians and leaders who committed various categories political offenses (including human rights violations) since 2006. The measure, which would allow former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to the country, has sparked massive street protests in Thailand over the past few days.

Mass protest against amnesty bill in Bangkok, November 2013. Photo by Twitter user @ter_TRnews

Mass protest against amnesty bill in Bangkok, November 2013. Photo by Twitter user @ter_TRnews

In the midst of public protests and the CCA debate still ongoing, the ICT has been accused of censoring websites that help users make anti-amnesty bill icons and e-banners. According to a report, the ICT was identified by the Prime Minister as a “security apparatus to control protesters.”

As political conflicts intensify in Thailand, the government is unfortunately also actively endorsing measures that would restrict media and Internet freedom in the country. But should the new regulations pass, they may inspire powerful and much-needed resistance from media and netizen groups.

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