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Editorial: New law takes aim at cyber-criminals

The Computer Crime Act will finally enable authorities to protect 'netizens' and enhance e-commerce

Published on July 18, 2007

The long-awaited Computer Crime Act, which comes into effect today, will have a positive impact on both avid "netizens" and non-computer users alike by protecting online privacy and ensuring Internet security. The new law was also designed to enhance electronic commerce and national security, and should as a result encourage online transactions by creating a safer cyber-environment that is more conducive to business for all. The Computer Crime Act is Thailand's first serious attempt at dealing with crimes in cyberspace. The goal of the act is to plug the loopholes in existing laws in order to empower law-enforcement agencies to more effectively deal with crimes committed via the computer or Internet. Such crimes include hacking, unlawfully accessing computers or network resources, and the unauthorised interception of e-mails or data transmission with the aim to commit theft or do harm to others. Without this law, law-enforcement officials would be unable to apply the Criminal Code and criminal procedures in order to go after cyber-criminals.

Computer crimes have had a negative impact on businesses, particularly those that rely heavily on electronic transactions. However, these cyber-crimes have usually been kept secret out of the fear companies had that publicising them would weaken consumers' confidence in doing business online.

It is a well-known fact that Internet service providers (ISPs) and commercial banks have been spending millions of baht each year just to keep hackers at bay and secure their information technology systems against malicious virus attacks.

Contrary to the fears expressed by some-civil liberty advocates, the law is not intended to give authorities too much power to impose censorship, restrict freedom of expression, or infringe on individual rights and privacy. Indeed, the law seeks to enhance individual privacy: under the Computer Crime Act, employers are forbidden from screening or monitoring employees' e-mails without prior notice.

The Act also does not give the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) minister too much power as it relates to blocking websites. The minister is required to seek a court order in order to block any website, with such decisions to be made on a case-by-base basis.

The law also bolsters the capability of law-enforcement agencies to go after international criminals as well. The law specifies that any criminal act targeting or negatively affecting a person in Thailand will fall into the jurisdiction of Thai law enforcers, who will be able to prosecute wrongdoers regardless of where in the world they committed the crime.

There had been debate about the possible liability of ISPs in cases of criminals using their resources to commit crimes. But the law makes it clear that ISPs who operate their businesses in good faith have nothing to fear. For example, ISPs that take prompt and appropriate action against criminals to stop them from using their networks to commit crimes or take remedial measures will not be prosecuted as accessories to criminal actions.

Specialised law-enforcement officials will be trained to conduct investigations of computer-related crimes. The Royal Thai Police force meanwhile will be developing its capacity to investigation computer crimes. Since there are currently too few officers who specialise and are well versed in computer crime investigation and evidence-gathering techniques, police will refer cases of computer crime to the ICT Ministry for investigation.

Now that the law is in effect, people will have to think twice about such innocuous activities as forwarding e-mails containing information or pictures of other people in compromising positions, or circulating URLs of websites that offer content such as pornography. Senders will now have to consider the impact of this material on others because those forwarding such material can also be prosecuted for infringing on others' rights to privacy.

The law will require ISPs to back up information, such as IP addresses and user logs, which would increase their cost of doing business. However, this would improve security on all sides and create an environment in which more people are encouraged to do business online, which would benefit all parties, including ISPs.

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