(Trying to) Make sense of Thai internet laws

Don Sambandaraksa (@smartbrain) has an excellent column with the Bangkok Post this week tackling the complicated issue of internet laws in Thailand, a space which like many suffers from huge amounts of bureaucracy and is over-serviced by a number of organisation which trend on common ground and each others toes.

Don goes into some detail on the subject, a few notable highlights are below, but I recommend reading the piece in full over here.

The problem with the computer crime law is not the law itself, but the fact that it was designed as a pair of laws and the thrust of criticism levelled at the law today is really a reflection of the missing data privacy law that was drafted alongside it – the yin to the cyber crime law’s yang.

Back in February 2007, I interviewed Nectec deputy director Dr Chadamas Thuvasethakul, who back then had been working on these laws for over 12 years. Back in 1995, the National IT committee set up a committee to draft a series of IT laws. Nectec was the secretariat. By 1998, the committee had identified six urgent cyber laws which were put to the Cabinet of Ministers.

These were electronic transaction law, electronic signatures, data privacy, electronic funds protection, national IT infrastructure and computer crime. Dr Chadamas said that the intention was to enact a balance of laws to help promote the use of ICT and enable e-Commerce and at the same time enact laws to prevent cyber crime. The first law to be passed was the electronic transaction law in December 2001.

However, things got bogged down in 2002 when the government decided to focus on civil service reform and, among other things, set up the Ministry of ICT.

My own opinion was that the establishment of the MICT meant the jockey in the driver’s seat who had been working on the laws seven years suddenly changed, from Nectec to MICT, and the new hosts had neither the technical knowledge nor conviction to get the laws passed in the way they originally envisioned. There was a lot of tinkering and debate, but it lacked the original Nectec vision.

As I mentioned this confusion and over servicing organisation is not just isolated to the issue of internet legislation:

But perhaps the best example of how this unfinished business is hurting the country is the continued saga of TOT and CAT. Is the role of these state enterprises to be back haul? To invest in and provide unlit fibre infrastructure and passive? Or can they fully compete with the private sector right up to wholesale (and even retail) and bring in a lot of money to the state?

As Don concludes:

In too many ways, Thailand has failed to move on from the mid-90s. The merry-go-round at the MICT has not helped.

Some say Thailand is lost. I say we had a pretty good vision by the NITC and a decent draft map laid out back in 1997 by Nectec. The country is lost only because nobody bothered to complete the masterplan and fill in the details in the decade and a half since.

There is no doubt from background and reading the column that an overhaul is needed. Don is right to suggest the plan was never fulfilled and, consequently, it is being applied and misapplied by parties that were not involved in its inception. That said, the emergency powers decree is often applied to cyber crime issues, thus bypassing any existing laws, with the results – most commonly blocking of websites – temporary and not permanent.

Review and streamlining seems unlikely with the present government instead choosing its cyber crime department for now – see this post for more.