Thai journalists, civil society groups wary of 'digital economy' bills

Thai journalists, civil society groups wary of 'digital economy' bills

THE PRESS Council, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) and civil-society groups have called for the withdrawal of all 10 "digital economy" bills being drafted by the military government, alleging that they could violate civil rights and freedom of the press.

"Though the government welcomes the public and related parties to float ideas and suggestions while the bills are scrutinised by the Office of the State of Council, it would be better if those draft bills were pushed back," Chakrit Permpoon, chairman of the Press Council, said yesterday.

He said that under the current process, the draft bills could be adjusted only in detail but their concepts and principles would remain unchanged.

Chakrit addressed the situation at "Cyber Security Act: Risk of Violating Privacy Rights and Press Freedom", a seminar organised by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, the TBJA, the Isra Institute Thai Press Development Foundation, and the Press Council.

He said that if the bills were passed into law, both the current government and future ones would have more power to control people under the guise of national security.

It was likely to limit people's rights and freedoms.

However, panellist Surangkana Wayuparb, chief executive officer of the Electronic Transactions Development Agency, which is spearheading these controversial bills, said all relevant parties could voice their concerns to her team.

"We welcome all suggestions by relevant industries.

For example, we have changed some details upon public requests after attending and listening to them on many occasions and at public forums like this seminar," she said.

Surangkana insisted that further details could be amended during the bills' consideration by the Office of the Council of the State.

Before submitting the final drafts to the National Reform Council (NRC), her team would hold public hearings to ensure that they reflect genuine demands from the people.

Korkhet Chantalertluck, chairman of the TBJA, said he was concerned about the public surveillance that might affect the daily lives of the people and the press.

"What will happen when a phone conversation between a reporter and news sources related to corruption issues is monitored by the government claiming security reasons?" he asked.

"What is the borderline between freedom of the press and national security? What is the exact definition of national security?"

The punishment against government officials who leak information collected from an individual or the press is still unclear, he added.

Sarinee Achavanuntakul, chairwoman of the Foundation for Internet and Civic Culture, said she was concerned that the Cyber Security Bill might affect or violate privacy rights of consumers and business confidentiality.

She argued that the government should place its focus more on systems security and safety in cyberspace, particularly on critical infrastructure, if it really wanted to protect the nation from hackers or terrorists.

To promote a digital economy, the government should help people and business operations be secure to live their lives and to run their business freely, she suggested.

Sarinee added that under the digital-economy policy, the government should play a role as a supporter and facilitator and should avoid creating any conflicts of interest by entering the market as an operator to compete with private players.

She pointed to the United States as a model.

For national security, the US government encouraged private business operators in critical infrastructures such as banking and e-commerce to collaborate on protecting consumers' rights and privacy.

In an emergency, the government could request that those business operators share relevant data but not include personally identifiable information.

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