The act allows the National Cybersecurity Committee, run by Thailand’s generals, “to summon individuals for questioning and enter private property without court orders in case of actual or anticipated ‘serious cyber threats’.”
Court warrants are not required for action in “emergency cases” and criminal penalties will be imposed on those who do not comply with official orders.
The authorities can now search and seize data and hardware without a warrant if a threat is identified by the unaccountable body.
The junta, which is hoping to win power legitimately through this month’s general election, already censors the internet and often claims criticism is a threat to national security.
Thai rubber-stamp legislators also unanimously passed the Personal Data Protection Act, which regulates all firms that collect data on Thais and allows the authorities to make copies of information and raid hard drives at will.
The legislation, which some employers and rights campaigners have called a “cyber martial law”, now need the king’s signature to become law.
Jeff Paine of the Asia Internet Coalition said the Cybersecurity Act “would give the regime sweeping powers to monitor online traffic in the name of an emergency or as a preventive measure, potentially compromising private and corporate data”.
The junta defended the controversial cybersecurity legislation, the latest in a wave of laws in the region that assert state online control.
Activists said the legislation sacrificed privacy and the rule of law. They said the compliance requirements could also drive foreign businesses out of the kingdom, which has been run by the military since the May 2014 coup.
The junta said the law would protect networks from cyber attacks while denying it amounted to state surveillance or violated rights.
“We have made sure that it would not allow for violation of individuals’ rights and arbitrary use of power,” said Ajarin Pattanapanchai of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.
“The law will not be used to regulate social media or computers or devices belonging to the people.”
But activists point to the vague wording of the legislation that could be used to monitor a variety of online activity.
“The scope of the law is so broad, it’s like Big Brother,” said Kanathip Thongraweewong, director of the Digital Media Law Institute at Kasembandit University.
The Thai authorities are busily monitoring the population. Picture credit: Asean Economist