Everyone wants a Thai Facebook: Thai ICT minister

Metaratings
18 Feb 2015
00:00
Article

Just when one thought things could not get any more surreal, Thailand’s ICT Minister has called for a Thai Facebook, a Thai Google and a Thai e-commerce platform because “everyone” wants them so that the government can protect their data from cyber attacks.

ICT Minister Group Captain Pornchai Rujiprapa has taken to the TV talk show circuit defending the ten cyber-laws which includes the draft cyber security law and new frequency act that is still making headlines after being approved by the cabinet.

In a recent interview on state-owned Thai PBS Pornchai said that the country needs a Thai Google, a Thai Facebook and a Thai e-commerce platform. That way, data will be within the country and if anyone abuses that data, they would be sent to jail.

“Today when we pick up our phones, all the data goes overseas. Nobody wants that,” he said.

The ICT Minister said that he’s talked to businesses and everyone is happy with the cyber security bill as they would rather have data in the country where it can be well protected.

At this juncture, one wonders what people Pornchai has been talking to as they are obviously not representative on the vast majority of people on social media that are up in arms over the totalitarian nature of the law. Even the Thai Bankers Association has been reported to be concerned about its provisions and how the digital economy board could seemingly order bank officials to hand over customer data without any court oversight in the name of national cyber security..

Elsewhere there was signs of sanity returning. In a forum at the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce, the MICT Permanent Secretary has conceded that some provisions of the cyber security law will not apply to foreign companies, though no concrete decisions had been made at this early stage.

Methini Thepmanee directly contradicted her boss by saying that there was widespread concern from the business community about hosting servers within the country given the requirement to hand over data or passwords on demand.

“If we scrutinise them too closely, they won’t come here. They won’t dare host any data in Thai servers. ” she said, warning that the alternative would be for all content to be hosted overseas and go through the international gateways.

So at this juncture it is clear that a set of cyber-laws that are supposed to usher Thailand into the digital age will at best chase all data hosting out of the country, at worst, chase out any foreign investor with a computer if the exemption is not passed.

Other points of interest was how Pornchai said that the current computer misuse act already covers most misdemeanours. “If you press like or share something that slanders others, you get arrested,” he said, somewhat simplifying the long-winded process.

He heaped praise on his staff in the MICT’s electronic transactions development agency (ETDA) which is also making the media rounds defending the act. Pornchai said that the Thai government has been the target of cyber attacks, but that the ETDA had capable people who managed save the day. What kind of cyber attacks? Well, that was a secret.

So because of the success of the ETDA secretly defending against unspecified secret attacks, the ICT Minister wants more secret power to spy on citizens so the country can defend against even more secret attacks? Sounds like a bad 60’s spy movie plot.

Asked about potential abuse of personal data, Pornchai deflected the question and said that any operative caught distributing personal data to a third-party would go to jail.

Aside from the fact that he seem to be more than happy to keep sending people to jail with all his comments, it was interesting that the host had asked him about concerns about the government accessing personal data but, reading between the lines, his answer was that people do not need to be concerned as once intercepted, personal data would not be shared with third parties.

It will be interesting to see how the compromise comes out. Exempting foreign companies from data access laws would simply cause all start-ups to register themselves as foreign. Indeed, that is already happening due to Thailand’s slow judicial process and IPR laws with many software developers being nominally post-boxes in Singapore, Germany or somewhere in Hollywood. The idea of foreigners in the country having more privacy rights than citizens seems to be a bizarre possibility.

General Prayuth has vowed to have the law passed so he can protect the monarchy from criticism, an admittedly popular cause in Thailand.

The junta has also demonstrated that it is more than happy to hold the Thai population hostage in its negotiations with Facebook when it ordered all ISPs to cut access to Facebook in June last year.

But as all technical people will know, none of this will work in today’s connected world. No country can simply create a new Google and force data sovereignty, though Yandex and Baidu come close in some areas. All this will accomplish is in setting up a mass spying apparatus focused on Thai citizens for the next government when it comes to power. Or perhaps that was the point all along.

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