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Cyber security bill threatens media freedom in Thailand

Thai Facebook users were alarmed on 28 May 2014 when the ICT Ministry blocked access to Facebook at the request of the military, but the junta blamed the brief shutdown on a technical problem
Thai Facebook users were alarmed on 28 May 2014 when the ICT Ministry blocked access to Facebook at the request of the military, but the junta blamed the brief shutdown on a technical problem

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 20 January 2015.

The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Thailand's military-appointed legislature to scrap proposed legislation that would allow for mass surveillance of online activities and platforms. The Cyber Security Bill was approved this month by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's Cabinet and is pending in the National Legislative Assembly.

If passed into law, the bill would establish a government-run cyber security committee charged with detecting and countering online threats to national security, stability, the military, and economy, according to press reports. Under Section 35 of the bill, the committee would be authorized to access information on personal computers, cell phones and other electronic devices without a court order, reports said.

"Proposed cyber-security legislation in Thailand represents a clear and present danger to media freedoms," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "If Prime Minister Prayuth is sincere about returning the country to democracy, he should see that Parliament scraps this bill, which is reminiscent of a police state, and instead enact laws that uphold online freedoms."

Prayuth's military-dominated government has imposed a series of restrictions on the press, Internet, and social media since seizing power in a May 22, 2014 coup, according to CPJ research. Those measures include martial law order No. 29, which empowers the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology to monitor and access online traffic and social media platforms for threats to national security.

The new bill aims to enact those surveillance powers into permanent law. Local press reports said it would likely be used to extend the country's lèse-majesté law, nominally designed to shield the Thai royal family from criticism but frequently abused for political purposes, to social media and other online communication platforms.

Violations of the law, outlined in the criminal code's Article 112, are punishable by three to 15 years in prison. Journalists Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and Nut Rungwong are currently serving harsh prison sentences under the law, CPJ research shows. Authorities have also applied provisions in the 2007 Computer Crimes Act to suppress and punish online criticism of the Thai monarchy, which authorities deem as a threat to national security and stability, according to CPJ research.

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