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E-COMMERCE IN THAILAND: A SLOW AWAKENING
Pascale Prud'homme and Hassana Chira-aphakul
E-Commerce, Telecommunications & Technology Group
There have been few developments in the IT sector since the publication of our newsletter "E-Commerce Awaits" in June 2000. Despite numerous government initiatives, Thailand still lacks the proper infrastructure and legal framework necessary to support e-commerce. As a result, most businesses operating in Thailand have been unable to take full advantage of the opportunities it offers.
However, changes should take place in the near future with the adoption of specific e-commerce-related laws and the forthcoming deregulation of the telecommunications sector, which will bring security for businesses and users, reduced tariffs, and higher speed connections. This newsletter provides an overview of the proposed legal framework along with a summary of issues that need to be tackled to speed up the deregulation of the telecommunications sector.
Adoption of a Legal Framework
At present, there are still five electronic-commerce-related laws on the agenda. The Electronic Transactions Bill is awaiting consideration of the Senate, while the Universal Access Bill is awaiting revision by the Office of the Council of State. The Data Protection law, the Electronic Fund Transfer law, and the Computer Crime law are still in the drafting stage. The laws were drafted by the National Information Technology Committee ("NITC") in conjunction with the National Electronic and Computer Technology Center ("NECTEC"), which acts as the secretariat.
Electronic Transactions Bill
of the Bill is crucial for the development of e-commerce in Thailand, because
there are presently no laws and regulations that address transactions taking
place via the Internet with the exception of sector-specific regulations or
notifications (such as the Regulation of the Stock Exchange of Thailand Re:
Trading of Securities through the Internet System 2000).
Under the present system, electronic signatures are not yet recognized as valid and binding signatures. The proposed Bill would resolve that problem in addition to providing the legal framework necessary to support electronic transactions and documents as well as allowing for their electronic retention under certain conditions. When passed, the law will apply to civil and commercial transactions with a few exceptions, which will be prescribed in a Royal Decree to be adopted under the law.
Under the proposed Bill, electronic signatures will be given the same legal status as handwritten signatures, provided that a "reliable" method capable of identifying the signatory is used. The Bill, based on the UNCITRAL model, is "technology neutral" in that it does not require signatures to be made through the use of a specific technology. However, a Royal Decree to be adopted thereunder will provide a list of "secure" technologies.
Certification service providers may be required to register and/or obtain licenses, as prescribed in the Royal Decree. An "Elec-tronic Signatures Commission", a regulatory body under the Bill, is to be set up to lay down policies for the promotion and development of the certification systems.
The Electronic Transactions Bill was expected to be enacted by the end of 2000, having passed the third and final required reading of the House of Representatives that year. However, adoption of the Bill was delayed because the Senate failed to endorse it before the government's dissolution when it lost the last election early this year. Recently, the new National Assembly agreed to continue the consideration of the Bill drafted by the prior government. As a result, the Bill is now awaiting scrutiny by the Senate, which reconvenes in August of this year. However, there are rumors that the Bill may undergo revision in order to clarify its scope and some definitions. One main issue is whether or not transactions with the government should be covered by this law.
Universal Access Bill
The Universal Access Bill aims at promoting and supporting the development of a proper information infrastructure throughout Thailand. This law is necessary in order to comply with Section 78 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (1997) whereby Thailand must provide universal access to information by developing adequate information infrastructures throughout the country. Under this law, a special information infrastructure development promotion fund is to be set up to assist local communities in the establishment and development of their information centers. The Bill places special emphasis on the allocation of funds to improve access to information by the disabled, children, elderly, and the underprivileged in Thailand's society. The Bill is presently with the Office of the Council of State, and its contents are likely to be revised.
Data Protection Law
The draft of the Data Protection law is almost finished and was released for public hearing earlier this month. Based on the data protection laws of the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong, the draft law will provide for the protection of personal data of individuals. The law, which is aimed at protecting individuals from the misuse of their personal information, will also regulate collection and retention of such information. However, the proposed draft does not protect employees' data and does not cover state agencies and mass media.
Computer Crime Law
The draft of the Computer Crime law is nearly completed. A partial version was submitted for public hearing earlier this month. This law will clarify what constitutes a computer crime, which includes, as a few exam- ples, unauthorized access, interception of data, use of a computer; computer-related espionage, forgery, fraud, and sabotage; and reproduction of a protected computer program. The law will also provide for penalties for non-compliance, but these sections were still being drafted at the time of writing.
Electronic Fund Transfer Law
The Electronic Fund Transfer law is still in the drafting process, thus, there is very little information about its contents. What we do know is that this law should establish security procedures for electronic fund transfers.