PEN America reacted with dismay today to the news that Thailand’s legislature has approved recently proposed amendments to the 2007 Computer Crime Act, saying that the newly-amended Act would continue to enable and worsen serious abuse of freedom of expression online.
Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly, the country’s legislative body composed of members hand-picked by the country’s ruling military junta, voted almost unanimously to approve the amendments to the bill on December 16. The amendments represent several changes to the 2007 law, which itself has previously been strongly criticized by privacy rights groups. According to the human rights group Fortify Rights, there have been at least 399 prosecutions under the Computer Crimes Act this year alone. In the run-up to the recent vote, more than 300,000 people signed an online petition objecting to the bill.
Amongst the key changes, the amendments to the law provide for prison terms of up to five years for “entering false information into a computer system” that could jeopardize national security, public safety, national economic stability or public infrastructure, or cause panic. The amended law also empowers a government committee to call for the removal of online content considered a violation of “public morals” pending court approval, even if the online content does not violate any law. A third amendment empowers authorities to request user data from internet service providers without a search warrant.
“Any bill that attempts to address cybercrimes must include, as a fundamental goal, the assurance of strong safeguards for individual rights to privacy and free expression. The Computer Crime Act of 2007 failed this test, and the amendments passed today, instead of giving back these denied freedoms, manifestly compound the limitations,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of PEN America’s Free Expression At-Risk Programs. “We urge the Royal Thai Government to reconsider this Act. In the meantime, we call upon Thai authorities to make public commitments that this Act will not be used to infringe upon individual rights.”
In addition to advocacy on cases of individual free expression and press freedom in Thailand, PEN America has previously stated its concern over the deterioration of free expression in Thailand in the aftermath of the 2014 military coup. PEN America tracks the development of digital freedom issues around the world, recognizing that nearly 50 percent of the imprisoned writers on PEN’s Case List are persecuted for what they have written or blogged about online.
For further analysis of the amended Computer Crime Act, visit Thai media outlet Prachatai’s infographic on the amended bill.