Thai minister defends controversial cybersecurity bill that would allow the wholesale seizure of private computers

Thai government official on Wednesday defended a sweeping cybersecurity bill which experts have decried for allowing the wholesale seizure of private computers and property, saying that “every country has a need” to protect itself.

The bill has drawn widespread criticism for authorizing a newly created committee to access and seize computers and hard drives of individuals and private companies without a court order in cases of “reasonable suspicion” and “emergency”.

To become law, the bill would need to be sent to the National Assembly by the end of the year to fly through its rubber-stamp parliament before its term expires ahead of Thailand’s long-anticipated elections early next year.

If passed under his watch, junta leader Prayuth Chan-O-Cha would lead the committee.

The bill is currently being “finalized”, said Pichet Durongkaveroj, minister of digital economy and society, also on the committee, who defended it on Wednesday.

“Every country has a need to set a legal system whereby we can protect our society … because every sector is now using some kind of computer,” Pichet said.

“There is a certain risk each sector will face when there is a cyberattack.”

He attempted to assuage fears of overreach by saying a court order would be needed to seize a private computer except in cases of emergency, adding that non-profit organisations, academics and foreign businesses have also been invited to voice their concerns.

In rare comments hitting out at the government, a senior judge at the Thai Appeals Court condemned the bill, calling it redundant.

“This law ignores the people’s rights and freedom,” said Sriamporn Saligupta.

“If the next government is not good and uses this as a tool, we will no longer have privacy rights.”

International companies would also balk at the measures since their financial transactions and business data could be monitored by authorities, the judge added.

Since it came into power, the junta has stifled dissent online using the Computer Crimes Act while also banning political activities.

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