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Thai activists push for changes in computer crime law

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Thai police officers block pro-democracy protesters from marching toward Government House during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, 22 May 2018. (Xinhua/Rachen Sageamsak)

BANGKOK (Bangkok Post) – Activists defending free speech online say they will push for changes to the controversial computer crime law following an uproar over its data retention requirement.

Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of Thai Netizen, said the group will mobilise support for the law amendment from the House committee on telecommunications, digital economy and society.

He said the data retention requirement under Section 26 of the Computer Crime Act is being targeted for revision as one of several elements that stifle civil rights.

The move to push for amendments to the law was rekindled after the Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta on Tuesday told owners of coffee shops to hand over their customers’ WiFi browsing histories as part of the ministry’s campaign against fake news.

The ministry said the data would be used by its anti-fake-news centre to monitor and investigate people who disseminate inappropriate information online in violation of Section 26 of the Computer Crimes Act.

Critics say the move is more proof that legislation is being abused by security agencies to target political dissent and hamper civil rights, not computer crime.

Mr Arthit said the civil sector is seeking cooperation from the House committee on telecommunications, digital economy and society in initiating amendments .Section 14 and Section 20 are among top concerns, he said.

Section 14 covers offences involving entering of information that causes “damage to the public, creates panic, or causes harm to public infrastructure, national security, public security or economic security” while Section 20 deals with censorship of “inappropriate” computer data by a computer data screening committee before a court approval.

Col Settapong, a former member of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, said if enforcement of the law is a cause for public concern, the committee is ready to review the proposed amendments.

Meanwhile, deputy police spokesman Pol Col Kritsana Pattanacharoen said the data retention measure is nothing new and keeping log files is a standard practice used by several countries to crack down on criminals.

He added the costs of storing data are shouldered by those providing internet access, not the users, who have nothing to worry about the measure.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said the data retention requirement does not violate privacy and the authorities are seeking the public’s cooperation.

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