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NACC 'snooping' plan stirs fury
The junta's National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will debate whether to give the power to wiretap and snoop in the name of fighting corruption, over the strong objections of many civil-rights advocates. (File photo)
December 21st, 2017 | 11:15 AM | 1091 views
A last-minute proposal to let the National Anti-Corruption Commission conduct eavesdropping and wire-tapping is expected to lead to a fierce debate in the National Legislative Assembly today.
Although the idea to further empower the graftbusters' snooping powers was proposed shortly before the NLA scrutiny committee concluded its amended version of the anti-corruption organic law earlier this week, the majority of the committee agreed with it.
NLA member Singsuek Singphrai said the NACC has the power to investigate corruption and unusual wealth. Some cases involved money-laundering, and he said the NACC then should have the power to investigate to gather evidence.
Moreover, there are many cases where the NACC cannot complete their investigations, so authorising eavesdropping will help a great deal, he said.
He claimed eavesdropping and wire-tapping were accepted internationally and insisted the committee had carefully considered people's privacy. The people investigated would be only those where the NACC had found there were grounds to believe they had committed wrongdoing, Gen Singsuek said.
Nevertheless, many observers warned about potential violations of people's privacy and other consequences if the information is misused.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said eavesdropping and wire-tapping must be done only when necessary, and there must be clear ground rules set out.
An NLA source, who asked not to be named, said some agencies are already allowed to eavesdrop while investigating, namely the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo), which needed court permission if they wished to do so.
Vicha Mahakhun, an adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and a former NACC member, said he feared the consequences if the information that is retrieved is leaked or misused, especially in the digital era when information spreads quickly and easily and cannot be erased.
"I don't know what will happen. This idea was also proposed abruptly [during the NLA scrutiny committee's deliberations]," he said.
"In the past, [the DSI and Amlo] had to ask for court permission, with the court responsible for the decision. This time, the NACC is asking for permission from the chief justice, so it is the chief justice's responsibility," he said.
Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) said he agrees with the proposal as his organisation supports all kinds of ways to battle corruption and trace money and assets acquired through graft.
Therefore, he said the ACT agrees with empowering the NACC to wiretap phone calls or gather digital information of high-ranking government officials and political office holders, as long as there are reasonable conditions imposed on when this can be done.
"The power must be within clear limits and must be considered on a case-by-case basis. The conditions must be clear about what kinds of cases and how much money needs to be be involved before wire-tapping can be used. Otherwise, people might be worried that this power may be used for political bullying, or for personal or business interests," he said.
Mr Mana proposed that the matter be examined by the Senate.
"You need measures to ensure transparency and honesty, as the NACC members will have this huge power while some of them are seen as being closely linked to some political power-holders in the current government. Such doubts could lead to major problems if the people do not accept the NACC," Mr Mana said, adding that it is also important that government officials working for the NACC and the NACC members are independent of each other.
The proposal came at the very last minute and the scrutinising committee had only barely an hour to discuss it, CDC member Pattara Khumphitak complained on Wednesday.
The NACC had proposed the idea but it was rejected by the CDC's scrutinising committee before the bill was submitted for the NLA's deliberation in its first reading. However, after it passed the first reading the NACC members proposed it again to the NLA scrutiny committee.
"There are many conditions and restrictions for this kind of law in the US and Europe. For us, there have been no details of the implementation conditions while it could affect the rights and freedom of many people," he said adding he would debate and oppose the bill's passage during the NLA's deliberations today.
courtesy of BANGKOK POST
by Aekarach Sattaburuth & Kornchanok Raksaseri
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