A cyber - security bill introduced just weeks ahead of Thailand’s first democratic election since a 2014 military coup has stoked concerns that it could be used as a weapon to stifle political dissent.
Critics say the broad and vague language in the Cyber Security Bill – passed by the country’s unelected lawmakers on 28 February – may give the current military government powers to seize data and electronic equipment without proper legal oversight. The law will come into effect once it is published in the Royal Gazette, the timing of which is unclear.
“This law’s aim is simple: to put the internet in a cage, ” said Katherine Gerson, a Thailand researcher at Amnesty International. “Authorities have already penalised scores of journalists, politicians, activists, academics and students under vaguely worded legislation – this new law would entrench the stifling political climate cultivated by the military government. ”
The new law risks further eroding free speech in a nation that’s already imprisoned hundreds of people over the past decade for political statements and insults to the royal family. Technology companies including Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. have also warned via an industry lobby group that it would empower authorities to spy on most internet traffic.
Thailand isn’t alone in tightening oversight of the internet and social media. Last year, the government of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak introduced a fake news law that was used to probe his chief opponent Mahathir Mohamad. After Mahathir was elected in May he attempted to repeal the bill, but was thwarted by the opposition - led Senate. India, which holds national elections next month, is also attempting to stem the spread of misinformation on Facebook.
“We give a high importance to cyber security and cyber threats, these measures are only to be used when there’s an actual threat to national stability, ” Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak, a government spokesman said in a phone interview. “If you’re just a regular business operating here with transparency and good conduct, this law wouldn’t affect you. ”