Thailand is set to pass a new cybersecurity law which will give a government agency power to seize computers and electronic devices and search all data. This raises fears that freedom of expression on the internet and data security will be further restricted and controlled, just two months before long-awaited elections are to be held, after over four years of military rule.
The law would create a 15-member National Cybersecurity Committee – which would also seat the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister – and would allow them to search electronic devices and the data stored on them and online. Such searches will usually require a warrant, except when deemed an emergency. Bhume Bhumiratana, an advisor to the Thai Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, stated that the law would focus on “protecting critical information infrastructure like servers and fibre optic cables.”
However, many have particularly criticized the uncertainty around what constitutes an emergency and believe the committee could easily take advantage of the wording to seize any data they want. Moreover, the legislation covers almost all businesses, but some government agencies would be exempt, further leading to concerns of abuse of power.
The bill was first introduced in 2015 but was put on hold until other cybersecurity laws were strengthened. In its first draft, however, the bill would have given “too much power to one person,” according to Bhumiratana, which is why it was reworked to include a committee.
This newest law may become another mark against Thailand’s human rights record. Human Rights Watch recently called on the Thai government to “stop suppressing fundamental freedoms” (Al Jazeera). In the past, Thailand has jailed several activists and dissidents, some of whom have criticized the government, military, and monarchy online. With no further transparency or accountability this newest law will only further restrict internet freedom for people in Thailand.
In the 2014 coup, Thailand’s military overthrew the then democratically elected government and established the National Council for Peace and Order. Since then, new democratic elections have continually been pushed back, but are now scheduled for March 24.
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