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Article Thailand: New, Tough Law on Cyber Security Drafted

(July 21, 2017) Thailand’s military-led government is reportedly planning to put new cyber security legislation before the country’s parliament, even though civil society and business groups are said to have expressed concern that the new measures will accord the government the power to carry out mass surveillance. (Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Thailand Plans Cyber Network Scrutiny, Law to Toughen Online Monitoring, US NEWS & WORLD REPORT (June 19, 2017).) The cyber security bill calls for the establishment of a National Cyber Security Committee, led by Prayuth Chan-ocha,  interim Prime Minister.  The Committee would have the broad authority to order public agencies and private businesses alike to assist in cyber security investigations.  In addition, the authorities would be empowered “to order anyone to report for questioning or hand over information” and “to tap all communication devices including phones and computers in ‘emergency cases,’ without court approval.”  (Id.)


The plan to increase powers over telecommunications activities comes in the context of increased targeting of social media by the authorities for alleged crimes of lèse-majesté and of increased spending by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, some 128.56 million baht (about US$3.8 million), on new software said to include a “social network data analysis system” to be used for monitoring and mapping individuals and also the relationships between online users.  (Id.)

Since  May 2014, the government has carried out a number of arrests of persons suspected of insulting the royal family on Facebook and other social media sites; Thailand’s legal watchdog group iLaw indicated that 59 people have been convicted of the crime, with the “toughest sentence yet” for an online post deemed to be in violation of the law, a 35-year prison term, handed down in June.  (Id.; Thailand’s Lese-Majeste Laws Explained, BBC NEWS (Dec. 3, 2016).) Article 112 of the Criminal Code of Thailand states, “[w]hoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”  (Royal Family (Sections 107-112), THAILAND LAW LIBRARY.)  In addition, Facebook reports indicate that the Thai government requested that the media site “block some 300 posts from users in Thailand this year, a sharp increase from 80 restrictions during the period from mid-2014 to the end of 2016 … .”  (Tanakasempipat, supra.)

Reactions to the Draft Law

Experts in the field have commented that the bill, if adopted, will intrude more on personal privacy than the recently amended Computer Crime Act, whose provisions give the authorities censorship power over online content but do not permit them to access private data.  (Id.; Constance Johnson, Thailand: Cyber Crime Law Amended by Legislature, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Dec. 23, 2016); Computer Crime Act, B.E 2550 (2007), PRACHATAI (unofficial English translation).)

The Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Somsak Khaosuwan, stated, however, that the aim of the proposed legislation is to protect the network and enable the government to better protect itself against crime, rather than to surveil individuals and violate privacy. (Tanakasempipat, supra.)  According to another official, Rittee Intarawut, chief of the army’s cyber center, which monitors Internet content critical of the monarchy, the draft cyber security law “would help the government prosecute royal-insult offences,” but a citizen has “nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong.”  (Id.)

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