Strengthening Regulatory Frameworks for Thailand’s Digital Economy

The regulation of Thailand's digital economy is decentralised among various agencies, leading to fragmentation implications within its digital economy. In this article, Khemmapat Trisadikoon, and Wichayada Amponkitviwat, researchers at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), examine the current regulatory landscape, identify gaps, and propose solutions to enhance regulatory effectiveness.

This copy is also available in Thai, click here to read.

By Khemmapat Trisadikoon, Senior Researcher, Thailand Development Research Institute and Wichayada Amponkitviwat, Researcher, Thailand Development Research Institute.

The regulation of Thailand’s digital economy is a complex web of decentralised authority spread across various agencies. This decentralised structure has led to fragmented oversight, with legislation, standards setting, and law enforcement responsibilities dispersed among different ministries and independent entities. These entities, ranging from public agencies under ministries to independent organisations, play roles in regulating market competition, protecting consumers, safeguarding personal data, and maintaining cybersecurity.

 

Overview of Thailand’s Regulatory Agencies in the Digital Economy

The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) serves as the key authority responsible for shaping and supervising Thailand’s digital technology infrastructure. It oversees important subordinate agencies such as the Office of Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) and the Office of Personal Data Protection Committee (PDPC).

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) operates as an independent telecommunications regulator. Its responsibilities include regulating telecommunications businesses, issuing licenses to public and private entities, and overseeing competition within the telecommunications sector. The NBTC frequently collaborates with the Office of Trade Competition Commission of Thailand (TCCT) to ensure fair competition, thereby promoting quality and equitable services.

The ETDA plays a significant role in overseeing electronic transactions, including establishing standards for National Digital ID (NDID), e-signature authentication, and regulating digital platform service businesses. However, there are exceptions for specific sectors such as finance, which are regulated by entities like the Bank of Thailand (BOT) or the Office of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The PDPC oversees organisations in both the public and private sectors that handle personal and cross-border data. It ensures compliance with regulations and practices, resolving disputes to build confidence and trust in the country’s data policies.

The Office of the National Cyber Security Committee (NCSC) is crucial for defending against cyber threats, particularly those targeting critical national infrastructure, which affects national security and economic stability.

Competition protection in Thailand is supervised by the TCCT, which oversees and promotes general trade competition in the country, including in digital markets, especially platform-based businesses.

As noted, certain agencies are specifically dedicated to overseeing the financial sector. For example, the BOT plays a pivotal role in supervising and mitigating financial risks that may impact the public. It also ensures the standardisation of financial institutions’ credibility by establishing criteria and best practices. Conversely, the SEC is tasked with regulating capital markets. It safeguards investors by overseeing processes, business conduct, fundraising activities, and transactions involving digital assets to prevent fraud, deception, or misconduct within the Thai capital market.

 

Regulatory Complexity and Evolving Roles

In summary, Thailand’s current regulation of platform businesses involves both general agencies overseeing information technology and digital affairs, as well as specialised agencies for sectors like finance. These state agencies endeavor to collaborate through policies, measures, and various projects. For example, the BOT and the SEC may work with the ETDA Office to bolster the readiness of financial institutions and the Thai capital market.

The current regulatory landscape indicates a trend of expanding roles for regulatory agencies into previously unregulated areas. However, this expansion may strain human resources and expertise, posing challenges in responding adequately to evolving changes. Moreover, the existing legal framework may not fully address digital challenges; for instance, while the TCCT still emphasises ex-post regulation, platform behaviors have become increasingly complex. Effective ex-ante regulation necessitates access to algorithms to comprehend competitive behaviors and market conditions before platforms engage in anticompetitive conduct.

However, Thailand is confronted with regulatory gaps stemming from the absence of specific laws governing frameworks and legal authority across various agencies. Consequently, the nation is currently in the process of drafting legislation aimed at regulating platform businesses, establishing it as primary legislation for platform economies. This ongoing initiative seeks to rectify regulatory gaps by centralising coordination for platform regulation. The proposed legislation will delineate a framework governing general behavior within the platform business, defining responsibilities and additional obligations based on the specific risks posed by different types of platforms. Moreover, it will facilitate coordinated enforcement mechanisms between other specific laws, thereby addressing fragmented regulatory and enforcement gaps.

 

Advancing Regulatory Synergy

Although the enactment of laws governing the platform economy in Thailand remains pending, the primary challenge in regulating the nation’s digital economy lies in accelerating cooperation to accommodate swift changes. The Tech for Good Institute’s research has recommended promoting collaboration in three critical areas to tackle this issue:

Firstly, collaboration among government agencies is imperative due to the multifaceted nature of issues related to the digital economy, encompassing trade competition, consumer protection, cybersecurity, and personal data protection. Given the need for various specialised agencies to effectively address these challenges, coordinating cooperation among agencies to respond to emerging issues is crucial. However, divergent objectives and operations among different agencies may arise within the context of agency-specific mandates.

Secondly, both government agencies and private sector organisations may encounter challenges in regulation and oversight owing to the rapid development and evolution of technology. Regulatory frameworks may need to adapt to evolving business models and technological advancements. Additionally, government agencies may lack understanding of the regulatory landscape and may incorrectly assess the impacts of their regulations. Collaborations between government agencies and the private sector can facilitate the exchange of information and enhance understanding of business models and technologies.

Thirdly, collaboration between government agencies and counterparts from other countries can enhance the effectiveness of regulatory oversight in the digital economy. Challenges in regulation and oversight transcend jurisdictional boundaries, and exchanging experiences and fostering cooperation between government agencies across borders can lead to more effective regulatory mechanisms. Furthermore, learning from other countries can provide valuable insights and guidance.

 

Forging a Unified Regulatory Path Forward

In summary, Thailand’s regulatory framework for the digital economy is intricate, involving a diverse array of agencies with specific responsibilities. While efforts are made to collaborate and address emerging challenges, the expansion of regulatory roles and gaps in the legal framework present ongoing obstacles. To address these issues, Thailand is actively pursuing legislation aimed at centralising platform regulation, aiming to establish a cohesive framework and enhance enforcement mechanisms. However, accelerating cooperation remains a key challenge. Collaboration among government agencies, the private sector, and international counterparts is crucial for navigating complexities effectively. By fostering synergy and exchanging insights, Thailand can pave the way for a more adaptive regulatory landscape in its digital economy journey.

 

The views and recommendations expressed in this article are solely of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views and position of the Tech for Good Institute.

 

About the writers

Khemmapat Trisadikoon is a Senior Researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Currently, he is conducting research on constitutional law, administrative law, personal data protection law, and digital transformation in the public sector.

Wichayada Umponkitviwat is a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), with interests in digital law, computer law, personal information protection, and policy research on law and social issues.

 

About the organisation

The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) was established as a public policy research institute in 1984. Its legal form is that of a private non-profit foundation. It provides technical analysis (mostly but not entirely in economic areas) to various public agencies to help formulate policies to support long-term economic and social development in Thailand.

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Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.

 

Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.

 

As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.