Thailand’s amendment of the Computer Crime Act

thailandThailand is drafting an amendment to the 2007 Computer Crime Act.

The law, which was was drafted by a junta-appointed interim legislature following the 2006 coup, was designed to put an end to spam, hacking, and other computer-related offenses.

Rights groups, however, have criticized the law’s vague language and its application, which, together with criminal or royal defamation (lese majeste) suits, serve as a tool to stifle dissent in the kingdom.

There has been a marked increase in the number of people charged under the Computer Crime Act, especially since the 2014 coup. The Asian Correspondent, quoting numbers from human rights advocacy group, Fortify Rights, reported 399 convictions under the Computer Crime Act in 2016 alone, compared to just six in 2011. When questions regarding how to minimize the number of convictions were put forth to the panel

Civil society groups have campaigned for the law to be amended by including more precise definitions (e.g., what does the Act mean by “offences”) and decriminalizing libel, however, critics have pointed out that the proposed amendments make things worse by expanding government’s authorities without a similar increase in checks and balances.

Since King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s passing on October 13, authorities have also stepped up its game on eliminating content critical of the monarchy. The Associated Press reported that more than 1,300 websites were shut down last month, which is more than the past five years combined.

These developments are consistent with the military junta’s goal since coming into power in 2014: To streamline and increase state control over the Internet in Thailand. The junta released eight Digital Economy bills in 2015 and launched the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society in 2016–moves which were seen by rights groups as the military tightening their grip over national security and the telecommunications industry.


On December 5, 2016 at the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet) Symposium in Guadalajara, Mexico, I will present a paper I co-authored entitled “Internet Governance During Crises: The changing landscape of Thailand,” which discusses the impact of the 2006 and 2014 coups on the governance of the Internet in Thailand.


Pay up or what, Indonesia?

UPDATE: LINE, BBM on Board for In-Country Office Plans, The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia’s Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara said that during a recent visit to Silicon Valley, President Joko Widodo (or “Jokowi” for short)  called on giant tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix to open their branch offices in Indonesia.


(Photo credit: GovInsider.Asia)

The purpose, as outlined by Indonesian finance minister Bambang Brodjonegoro, is so that they will be required to pay local taxes. In addition, they will have to obtain “permanent establishment” status, which can be in the form of either establishing a representative office or a full-fledged company. The Communication Ministry estimated that, in 2015, digital advertising from Indonesia was worth about $800 million

Aside from taxes, Communications Ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu also told Reuters that the government is interested in regulating content related to terrorism and pornography, which I am sure they hope would be easier to do if these companies have representatives/offices in Indonesia. It is worrying given the lack of transparency and accountability in Indonesia’s content control processes.

In 2014, I wrote an op-ed in The Jakarta Post on government regulations that stifle freedom of expression online, and co-authored a report about the government’s decision to block Vimeo, a video-sharing website.

Earlier this month, a commission at the Indonesian House of Representatives recommended that the Communications Ministry ban websites which “promote and propagandize LGBT content” and to issue regulations to restrict content on that topic. In February,  the Ministry also instructed over-the-top (OTT) providers like LINE and WhatsApp to remove lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) related emoticons and stickers from the local market, with the reasoning that they “need to respect local culture and values.”

A legal decree mandating tech giants to set up shop in Indonesia is expected to be issued at the end of March, and to be implemented in April. The government said that it will block services that do not comply, or reduce their bandwidth.

Rudiantara, however, is not very optimistic, and has said that the companies were “unlikely to respond the call.”


What’s goin’ on in Malaysia

UPDATE: The Malaysian Insider to shut down, Borneo Post Online


(Photo credit: Malaysia Chronicle)

You know things are bad when even opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is willing to support his “arch nemesis” aka former PM Mahathir Mohamad in demanding current PM Najib Razak to resign. Razak is currently battling corruption allegations in the state fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).


(Photo credit: I Am Politikus)

Read the WSJ’s special coverage on the issue.

In protest, the former prime minister has even quit the party, the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). (And I thought I would never see the day.)

On the cyber side of things, the government has also blocked online news portal, The Malaysian Insider, after it published a story on 1MDB. The official explanation: “National security,” of course. Not the government’s first rodeo in censoring the Internet, however. It has also previously blocked access to The Sarawak Report, Asia Sentinel, and Medium after they published similarly controversial articles. The United States has criticized Malaysia for restricting press freedom, but it’s not like that did anything (Malaysia defended its decision).

Furthermore, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said that it has “blocked 52 new media websites and investigated 14 social media abuse cases since the setting up of the Special Committee to Combat Abuse of Social Media in January.” I wonder how does this Special Committee work? Most likely not transparent or accountable to the people.

In a sad attempt to show support for embattled PM Razak, the Twitter hashtag #RespectMyPM was created, and it totally backfired. (Did they really not see this coming?)