The Thai government has come under fire for a new regulation that forces coffee shop owners to track and store the data of customers using their wifi, a move critics say will be used to stifle political dissent and free speech.
Thailand’s digital economy and society ministry has demanded that cafe owners retain a log file of their customers’ browsing data for at least 90 days, in line with Section 26 of the country’s Computer Crimes Act.
The new rule will allow authorities to more easily identify and track down internet users deemed to be violating Thai law.
The digital economy and society minister, Buddhipongse Punnakanta, said the data would be used by Thailand’s new “fake news centre”, which opened this August to monitor and track “false and inappropriate” reports.
Thai business owners, especially small-scale operators, have complained the new rule would mean added cost, because they would have to purchase servers to store the data, while also burdening customers who would have to provide their personal information in order to log on to their wifi.
The ministry suggested coffee shops and internet cafes keep paper records if concerned about data storage costs.
The announcement comes in the same week that Karn Pongpraphapan, a 25-year-old pro-democracy activist, was arrested for allegedly insulting the monarchy online.
In a Facebook post on 2 October, Karn made reference to the grisly fates of past European monarchs, although he did not specifically mention the Thai royal family.
It is forbidden to insult the monarchy in Thailand, which has among the strictest lese-majesty laws in the world.
Critics say the new data retention rule could also be used to stifle political dissent and free speech.
Arthit Suriyawongkul, the coordinator of the NGO Thai Netizen, a group that advocates digital rights, told the Bangkok Post that activists would push for an amendment to the controversial legislation.
“Does the government really think they can catch bad people with this?” he said in response to the new rule, “Or is it just a way to threaten people with the knowledge that they are being watched?”.