Thailand: Netizens Demand Basic Cyberspace Rights

By Asia Media Forum - 2008

BANGKOK, (Asia Media Forum) - The 'broad and unclear' provisions of Thailand's cyber crime act continues to baffle Netizens and civil society group, who have formed a group that seeks to amend the said bill.

Dubbed the 'Thai Netizen Network' (TNN), the group is composed of freedom of expression activists, Internet bloggers, owner of Internet service providers, members of the online media, and other dedicated Netizens. On Dec. 2, the working committees of TNN were introduced to the public and discussed their future plans on how to forward their cause.

"We would like to see basic rights on the Internet the right to access, right to expression, right to privacy and right to legal action. Authorities implementing laws should be transparent and just," said writer and blogger Sarinee Achavanuntakul. Her blog at http://www.fringer.org/ is one of the more popular bilingual blogs Thai and English in the country.

While Sarinee acknowledges that TNN members do not have the same standards when it comes to certain issues, such as censorship, they nevertheless have a "common ground".

"We'll work with society based on these common grounds, instead of taking extreme sides," she added.

The network, she said, are not hardcore liberals. They are against online pornography, cyber bullying and are open to self-regulation to ensure Internet users a safe and healthy online environment. They promote "freedom coupled with clear responsibility", Sarinee added.

Bothered and bewildered

The group finds worrisome the ambiguity of the cyber crime law that it says could result in double standards and biases.

According to media rights advocate Supinya Klangnarong, this is a reflection of the country's laws and regulations on freedom of expression. "It is very problematic as there are no clear boundaries on the laws about freedom of expression, especially in determining what is right and wrong," said the vice chair of Thailand's Campaign for Popular Media Reform.

Supinya added that provisions in the cyber crime act could violate constitutional rights. For instance, the act requires ISP providers to keep records of individual users for 90 days, which NTT campaigners find a clear violation of privacy rights.

"What are those records actually for and who is going to use them?" wrote a British blogger in his 'Lost Boy' blog.

According to authorities, these stored data can be gathered as digital evidence when tracking cyber offences, such as pornography and libelous content. Internet cafes also are required to record the identities of Internet users, the time they logged in and out and the sites they visited. Violators will be fined up to 500,000 baht (14,000 U.S. dollars).

But even then, there is still confusion, even among authorities, on the proper procedures in dealing with cyber crime issues, critics said.

"The procedures used by the police in such circumstances are unclear and confusing. There are many cases when the police just took servers and computers, even without a proper court order. The cyber police and departments involved don't coordinate well with each other," said Chiranuch Premchaiporn, executive director of independent Thai-language online daily Prachatai.com.

Clueless

For instance, police in May 2008 arrested a web board owner after one of the site's thousands of users posted nude photos of a lady out of spite. Siriporn Suwannapitaka, 212Cafe.com owner, had just gotten back from a vacation when he was picked up by police for a crime he was not even aware of.

"The police couldn't even tell specifically direct us to the problematic URL. When I asked them what I should do, they told me they didn't know," said Siriporn.

Though he offered to 'freeze' the offensive site, the police came back a month later and served him a warrant of arrest. They accused him of allowing people to use pornographic materials and make money from it.

"There are 28,000 people from both public and private sectors using my web board and it's difficult to keep track of all of them. What's more, they didn't even try to arrest the poster of the said photos," said Siriporn, who had to come up with 100,000 baht (2,800 dollars) as bail bond.

One of TNN's goals is to provide legal consultation and support to those in need.

"Internet users don't have a particular group that can represent them when necessary, unlike the government and other sectors," said blogger Arthit Suriyawongkul in his blog, 'Bact' is a Name'.

As of October 2008, there are 32 cases on lese majeste being wrapped up by police investigators. Of these cases, 15 involve offensive messages posted online.

Under the lese majeste law in Thailand, anything deemed disrespectful or threatening to the monarchy is punishable by a jail term.

The authorities also need to be educated about the technology they are dealing with, added Arthit.

"The cyber crime law focuses too much on hardware. It's not right and it makes more sense to take and examine data specific to that case," he said, referring to the police's penchant for confiscating all computer hardware. Instead of taking the whole server, for instance, they could just examine the offending link.

"The law is not even clear on who will be held responsible for lost files if the accused is proven innocent. People working on cyber crimes might not even know anything about the technology," he added.

Hope out there

But Chiranuch said that dialogue is now being held between the police, civil society groups and web board owners and ISP providers to try and come up with a framework in the implementation of the cyber crime law. This will include the proper procedures to be followed in instances when cyber crime is suspected.

"We've to accept that the Internet is a newcomer in the legal scene. The present Cyber Crime Act is flawed and everyone is afraid of it being misused and abused," said Kasetsart University professor Dr Jittat Fukjaroenpol.

The question of overlapping laws also came into focus, especially what Netizens described as "fuzzy laws on both libel and lese majeste cases".

"The country has an existing libel law and it's redundant to include this to the cyber crime law," noted Sunit Shrestha, managing director of ChangeFusion, an social venture investment firm that sees the value of online creativity and freedom of expression.

Compounding these problems is the online world's tricky relationship with traditional, mainstream media.

"It is our wish to work together with traditional media. We want them to understand about the Net community and how they work," said Siranee.

Unfortunately, she added, bad news sells. In Siriporn's case, the 'bad news' came in the form of sensationalism and a breaking of media ethics. 'Porno Web Master Arrested' screamed the headlines the following day.

Other newspapers used photos of adult video websites alongside the story, so that people thought the sites are Siriporn's. (END/IPSAP/LLC/JS/041208)

http://www.theasiamediaforum.org/node/949


By Asia Media Forum| 2008
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