Media activists concerned over new Thai cyber law

July 18, 2007

BANGKOK — 

Thai police will be able to seize computers from homes and
businesses under a new cyber-crime law that came into force Wednesday,
which authorities say will help crack down on Internet pornography.

The Computer-related Crimes Act allows authorities to seize
computers if they suspect that they will be used illegally, but media
rights activists say that the law will allow the government to invade
people’s privacy.

People found guilty of breaking the new law could face up to 20
years in prison if their actions are seen as a threat to national
security.

“This is to prevent computers being used for sending pornographic
material or slanderous messages,” information and communications
technology ministry spokesman Vissanu Meeyoo said.

But Supinya Klangnarong of the watchdog Freedom Against Censorship
Thailand said that the new law allowed the authorities to trawl through
private files on people’s computers.

“The new law is a threat and violates people’s privacy,” Supinya
said. “It’s not preventive as they said, it is a controlling measure.”

Media rights campaigners have warned of increasing censorship since
a military coup last year. About 45,000 Web sites are blocked by the
government, and media rights groups say that the number is rising.

Most are pornographic, but the government also targets sites
critical of the king or supportive of ousted premier Thaksin
Shinawatra.

In the highest-profile case, the government blocked video-sharing
Web site YouTube in April after clips began appearing showing
digitally-altered images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Web site
remains inaccessible in Thailand.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in May that Thailand was
stifling free political debate in the kingdom by shutting down
political Web sites and moving to silence online critics.

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