Internet censorship in Thailand

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Most Internet censorship in Thailand prior to the September 2006 military coup d'état was focused on blocking pornographic websites. The following years have seen a constant stream of sometimes violent protests, regional unrest,[1] emergency decrees,[2] a new cybercrimes law,[3] and an updated Internal Security Act.[4] Year by year Internet censorship has grown, with its focus shifting to lèse majesté, national security, and political issues. Estimates put the number of websites blocked at over 110,000 and growing in 2010.[5]

Internet filtering in Thailand was classified as selective in the social, political, and Internet tools areas, and no evidence of filtering was found in the conflict/security area by the OpenNet Initiative in November 2011.[6] Thailand is on Reporters Without Borders list of countries under surveillance in 2011.[7] Thailand's Internet Freedom status is rated "Not Free" in the Freedom on the Net 2011 report by Freedom House, which cites substantial political censorship and the arrests of bloggers and other online users.[8]

History[edit]

Internet censorship is conducted by the Royal Thai Police, the Communications Authority of Thailand, and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT).[9]

Prior to the September 2006 military coup d'état, 34,411 web sites were blocked by all three government agencies. The cited reasons were as follows:[10]

  • 60% pornography,
  • 14% sale of sex equipment,
  • 11% threats to national security, which includes criticisms of the king, government or military,
  •  8% illegal products and services,
  •  4% copyright infringement,
  •  2% illegal gambling, and
  •  1% other.

Although the great majority of censored sites were pornographic, the list also includes anonymous proxy servers which circumvent Web-blocking and provide access to Internet gambling sites. Pornography and gambling are specifically illegal in Thailand.

On 19 September 2006, the Thai military staged a bloodless coup d'état against the government of elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The fifth official order signed by coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin on 20 September, the first day following the coup, was to enforce Web censorship and appoint Dr. Sitthichai Pokaiudom, “The Official Censor of the Military Coup”, Minister to head MICT.[11]

In October 2006, MICT blocked 2475 websites by "request"; by 11 January 2007, this number had risen to 13,435 websites, a jump of more than 500%. This brought the total number of websites blocked to more than 45,000.[11] All websites are blocked in secret and the criteria for censorship has never been made public by government. However, the MICT blocklist must be made available to ISPs to block.

With the enactment of a new cybercrimes law in June 2007 (Act on Computer Crime B.E. 2550), Thailand became one of the only countries in Asia to require its government to obtain court authorization to block Internet content (section 20).[3] Illegal activities under the Thai cybercrimes law include inputting obscene data, forged or false data likely to cause injury to another person, the public or national security; and data which constitutes a criminal offense relating to national security or terrorism (section 14). Criminal liability is extended to ISPs that intentionally support or consent to these illegal activities (section 15). The law creates civil and criminal liability for individuals who publicly post photographs of others that are “likely to” impair their reputation or expose them to shame, public hatred or contempt (section 16).

Ongoing political turmoil led prime minister Samak Sundaravej to declare a state of emergency on 2 September 2008. Upon his declaration, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology ordered ISPs to immediately shut down around 400 Web sites and block 1,200 more, all alleged to disturb social order or endanger national security.[12]

ICT Minister Mun Patanotai announced on 29 October 2008, plans to introduce an internet gateway system costing up to 500 million baht to block sites considered to promote lèse majesté materials. The Minister said the system could also be used to block other websites considered inappropriate, such as those of terrorist groups or selling pornography, but the ministry will focus first on websites with content deemed insulting to the Thai monarchy.[13]

A state of emergency was imposed on 7 April and lifted on 22 December 2010, but the Internal Security Act (ISA), which provides Thailand’s leaders with broad powers unrestricted by judicial procedure, remains in place.[2][4]

URLs blocked by court order:[14]


Year
Court
Orders
Blocked
URLs
2007 1 2
2008 13 2071
2009 64 28,705
2010 39 43,908

Total 117 74,686

It is estimated that tens of thousands of additional URLs are blocked without court orders through informal requests or under the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations.

Reasons for blocking:[14]

URLs
blocked

Percent

Reason
57,330 77% lèse majesté content (content that defames, insults, threatens, or is unflattering to the King, includes national security and some political issues)
16,740 22% pornographic content
357 <1% information about abortion
246 <1% content related to gambling

Estimates put the number of websites blocked at over 110,000 and growing in 2010.[5]

Methods[edit]

MICT blocks indirectly by informally “requesting” the blocking of websites by Thailand's 54 commercial and non-profit Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Although ISPs are not legally required to accede to these “requests”, MICT Permanent Secretary Kraisorn Pornsuthee wrote in 2006 that ISPs who fail to comply will be punitively sanctioned by government in the form of bandwidth restriction or even loss of their operating license. This is a powerful compulsion to comply.[citation needed]

Websites are blocked by Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and/or IP address. However, only about 20% of blocked sites are identified by IP address; the remaining 80% are unable to be identified at a specific physical location. If these sites could be identified as being located in Thailand, legal action could be taken against their operators. Thus, lack of IP address is a major oversight.

Several technologies are employed to censor the Internet such as caching, blacklisting domain name or IP address, or simply redirection to a government homepage. Blacklisting the website is beneficial for this kind of web censorship as the webmasters would be unaware that their websites are being blocked. This measure is said to be used to make unpleasant websites appear unavailable.[15]

Many censored web sites previously redirected the user to a site hosted by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) which states that the requested destination could not be displayed due to improper content.

Censorship of the Internet in Thailand is currently for website access only. Unlike China's “Great Firewall”, which censors all Internet traffic including chat conversation via Instant Messaging, Thai Internet users are still able to interact with other users without being censored. However, current policy is to use a system of transparent proxies so that the user receives system, server, TCP and browser error messages when trying to access blocked sites leading the user to believe that the failure is caused in the Internet itself.

Search engine giants, Google and Yahoo!, were approached to investigate the potential capability for blocking access to their cached web pages in Thailand, a common technique used to circumvent blocking.[citation needed] The search engines were also asked about keyword search blocking which is used effectively in China to censor the Internet. Google, at least, has made public a statement that it has no intention of blocking any sites to users in Thailand.[16][17]

Examples of websites blocked[edit]

19 September Network against Coup d'Etat[edit]

A trend is increased censorship of anti-coup websites such as 19 September Network against Coup d'Etat, which has been blocked six times as of February 2007, with the government refusing to acknowledge responsibility for the blocking.

Southern insurgency[edit]

Most sites concerning the violent political situation in Thailand's Muslim South are blocked, specifically those in support of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), a banned group which works for a separate Muslim state, including PULO's appeals to the United Nations for redress.

External news sites[edit]

Some web pages from BBC One, BBC Two, CNN, Yahoo! News, the Post-Intelligencer newspaper (Seattle, USA), and The Age newspaper (Melbourne, Australia) dealing with Thai political content are blocked.[when?][citation needed] More recently,[when?] all international coverage of Thaksin-in-exile has been blocked, including interviews with the deposed PM.[citation needed]

Webboards and discussion forums[edit]

Internet webboards and discussion forums such as Midnight University,[18] Prachatai.com[19] and Pantip.com have all been blocked, making reasonable political discussion very difficult. Prachatai and Pantip have chosen to self-censor, closely monitoring each discussion, in order to remain unblocked.

Video sharing sites[edit]

Video sharing sites such as Camfrog have recently been blocked on the grounds that people were "behaving indecently" on webcams; the block was later reversed when it was discovered that Camfrog provided a principal means of communication for the handicapped, elderly and shut-ins. Other video sharing sites such as Metacafe remain blocked however.

The entire video upload website, YouTube, has been blocked several times, including a complete ban between 4 April and 31 August 2007 due to a video which was considered to be offensive to the monarchy; YouTube's parent company, Google, was reported to have agreed to assist MICT in blocking individual videos, thus making the rest legal to display in Thailand. The YouTube site block persisted for nearly five months, despite the fact that the video challenged by MICT was voluntary deleted by the user who posted it.[20]

Websites containing lèse majesté content[edit]

The Criminal Code states that whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be jailed for three to 15 years, but the statute is broadly interpreted to apply to any mention of the institution of royalty that is less than flattering.

On 29 April 2010, Wipas Raksakulthai was arrested following a post to his Facebook account allegedly insulting Bhumibol.[21] The arrest was reportedly the first lèse majesté charge against a Thai Facebook user.[22] In response, Amnesty International named Wipas Thailand's first prisoner of conscience in nearly three decades.[23]

According to the Associated Press, the Computer Crime Act has contributed to a sharp increase in the number of lèse majesté cases tried each year in Thailand.[24] While between 1990 and 2005, roughly five cases were tried in Thai courts each year, since that time about 400 cases have come to trial—a 1,500 percent increase.[24]

Websites about the book The King Never Smiles[edit]

Although the independent biography of Thailand's King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, The King Never Smiles[25] by Paul Handley was published in July 2006, websites concerning the book had been blocked as far back as November 2005. As no advance reading copies or excerpts were made available, these sites were censored based on the book's title alone. All sites with links to sales of the book are still blocked, including Yale University Press, Amazon, Amazon UK, and many others.[26]

Wikipedia articles[edit]

  • Accessing the Wikipedia article on Bhumibol Adulyadej from Thailand on 10 October 2008, led to a w3.mict.go.th announcement: "Under Construction The site you are trying to view does not currently have a default page. It may be in the process of being upgraded and configured." The link is now redirected to:

The page was prohibited because of the court order. It could have an effect on or be against the security of the Kingdom, public order or good morals. Thai: ท่านไม่สามารถเข้าชม web page ที่ต้องการ เนืองจาก มีคำสั่งศาลให้ปิดกั้น หรือ มีลักษณะเข้าข่ายที่อาจกระทบต่อความมั่นคงแห่งราชอาณาจักร หรืออาจขัดต่อความสงบเรียบร้อยหรือศีลธรรมอันดีของประชาชน

—Super Broadband Network Co., Ltd., sbn.co.th/prohibit.html
  • The blocking of the King of Thailand's Wikipedia page may be due to content regarding the king's succession that the Thai Government views unappealing or illegal under its lèse majesté laws. The fake error message seen in Thailand when attempting to view the king's Wikipedia page can be seen on YouTube.[27]

WikiLeaks[edit]

On 28 June 2010, access to wikileaks.org was blocked in Thailand.[28]

Wayback Machine Internet archive[edit]

Some pages from the Wayback Machine, an Archive.org project which as of 2011 stores snapshots of over 150 billion web pages,[29] are being blocked by MICT.[30]

Aftermath of 2014 Coup d'Etat[edit]

Following the 2014 Thai coup d'état, the National Council for Peace and Order, ruling military junta, blocked the site dailymail.co.uk from accessing, due to the site publishing the video of Srirasmi in a manner closed to the breach of Lèse majesté in Thailand.[31] The junta, through Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), also instructed the internet providers in Thailand to block the access to Facebook temporarily on May 28, 2014. Despite claims of technical issue by the junta, the permanent secretary of MICT and Telenor, parents of Thai mobile phone operator dtac, later admitted that the block were done deliberately[32]

Opposition to Internet censorship[edit]

Interference in communication, including the Internet, was specifically prohibited by Section 37 and free speech protected by Section 39 of the 1997 “People's” Constitution. However, following the pattern of past coups, the military's first action was to scrap the Constitution and begin drafting a new one. Nevertheless, the MICT commissioned the Law Faculty of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University to find laws or loopholes which permit such censorship, and several other organizations have filed petitions with Thailand's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Midnight University[edit]

Midnight University has filed petitions simultaneously with the NHRC[33] and Thailand's Administrative Court.[34] As the Court and the Council of State can find no laws which permit Internet censorship, Midnight University has been granted a restraining order against further blocking, pending resolution of its legal case. This makes Midnight University the only legally-protected website in Thailand.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)[edit]

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)[35] filed a petition against censorship before the NHRC on 15 November 2006. FACT's petition is still open for signatures and is actively seeking international support.[36] Though NHRC has no enforcement capability and is therefore rarely able to extract evidence from government bodies, on 26 January 2007 MICT agreed to cooperate with the NHRC.

On 9 February 2007, FACT filed an official information request with MICT[37] under the Official Information Act of 1997.[38] The request contains 20 questions and is signed by 257 individuals supported by 57 international civil liberties and human rights groups.[39] The MICT refused to reply citing grounds of “national security” and “interference with law enforcement”; its secret blocklist, criteria used for censorship and specific procedures it uses remain private. On 23 March 2007, FACT filed a complaint requiring an investigation within 60 days by the Official Information Commission under the Prime Minister's Office.[40] FACT stated that, should the complaint fail, it would seek a restraining order against further censorship through Thailand's legal system.

Circumvention software[edit]

Software applications for circumventing web-blocking are readily available. Tor is in use through software including XeroBank Browser (formerly Torpark) and Vidalia, and a number of other proxied solutions including Proxify, Six-Four, phproxy are also used. Freenet is another popular solution. Available for free download from the Internet, these packages are also published on disk by FACT. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Minister has said in an interview in the Bangkok Post that he has not blocked these methods because "using proxies to access illegal sites are illegal, whereas using proxies to access legal sites is legal."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ AFP, Thailand says southern unrest worsening, 8 March 2011
  2. ^ a b "Thai Cabinet agrees to lift emergency decree in Bangkok", Kocha Olam, CNN World, 21 December 2010
  3. ^ a b Act on Computer Crime B.E. 2550, 10 June 2007, English translation
  4. ^ a b "Thailand lifts state of emergency, what now?", Asian Correspondent.com, Hybrid News Limited, 22 December 2010
  5. ^ a b "Thailand's Massive Internet Censorship", Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Asia Sentinel, 22 July 2010
  6. ^ "Thailand Country Profile", Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace, Ronald J. Deibert, John G. Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, MIT Press and the OpenNet Initiative, November 2011, ISBN 978-0-262-01678-0
  7. ^ Internet Enemies, Reporters Without Borders, Paris, March 2011
  8. ^ "Country Report: Thailand", Freedom on the Net 2011, Freedom House, 18 April 2011
  9. ^ (Thai) Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MCIT), web site
  10. ^ "Illicit Website Reported Since April 2002". Royal Thai Police. Archived from the original on 20 February 2006. 
  11. ^ a b "Thai website censorship jumps by more than 500% since coup!". Freedom Against Censorship in Thailand. 15 January 2007. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  12. ^ "Thai government tries to shut down 400 websites", Oliver Luft, Guardian.co.uk, 3 September 2008
  13. ^ "UPDATE: B500m firewall may block 1,000 websites", Bangkok Post, 29 October 2008
  14. ^ a b "Facts & Figures: Netizen Arrests & Internet Censorship", iLaw, December 2010
  15. ^ Censoring the Internet in Thailand, Jeffrey Race, 3 October 2004
  16. ^ "Furthermore, MICT has “requested” Google Thailand and Google USA to self-censor. Google is researching how to effectively block its cached web pages from Thai Internet users. Google has also suggested to MICT that the company will block keyword searches which has also been used by the company for political repression in China.", from "MCIT blocklist 12 Oct 2006", Wikileaks
  17. ^ "Google's Gatekeepers", Jeffrey Rosen, New York Times Magazine, 28 September 2008
  18. ^ (Thai) Midnight University homepage
  19. ^ (Thai) www.prachatai.com เวบหนังสือพิมพ์ออนไลน์, (English)
  20. ^ "YouTube offers to help Thais block offending pages". Reuters. 6 April 2007. Archived from the original on 1 July 2007. 
  21. ^ "Thai man arrested for Facebook post about monarchy". Agence France-Presse. 30 April 2010. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  22. ^ "Govt cracks down on social networking forums". Bangkok Post. 3 July 2010. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  23. ^ Pravit Rojanaphruk (14 May 2011). "Amnesty International names Thailand's first 'prisoner of conscience'". The Nation. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  24. ^ a b Todd Pitman and Sinfah Tunsarawuth (27 March 2011). "Thailand arrests American for alleged king insult". Associated Press. Retrieved 27 May 2011. 
  25. ^ The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej, Paul M. Handley, Yale University Press, 10 July 2006, 512 p., ISBN 978-0-300-10682-4
  26. ^ Warrick-Alexander, James (6 February 2006). "Thailand Bars Univ. Website" Yale Daily News
  27. ^ "Strange Thai Internet Censorship", YouTube video, 16 November 2008. Retrieved 27 May 2011
  28. ^ "Thailand blocking WikiLeaks, says official", Bangkok Post, 18 August 2010
  29. ^ "About the Wayback Machine", The Internet Archive. Retrieved 28 May 2011
  30. ^ "FACT comments: Some of Google cached webpages were blocked by MICT as were pages archived to Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.", Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), 17 January 2009
  31. ^ Watson, Leon (25 May 2014). "MailOnline blocked in Thailand by military junta". Mail Online. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  32. ^ Vais, Mia (June 10, 2014). "Telenor says Thailand’s recent Facebook outage was ordered by the government". The Next Web. Retrieved June 11, 2014. 
  33. ^ (Thai) "สำนักงานคณะกรรมการสิทธิมนุษยชนแห่งชาติ", (English) "Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand", website
  34. ^ "Embattled Midnight University website complains to NHRC", The Nation, 9 October 2006
  35. ^ Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), website
  36. ^ "Sign the Petition ลงชื่อสนับสนุน", Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT). Retrieved 28 May 2011
  37. ^ "FACT Information Request Letter to MICT", Freedom Against Censorship Thailand, 11 February 2007
  38. ^ "Official Information Act (B.E. 2540)", Office of the Official Information Commission (O.I.C.), 2 September 1997
  39. ^ "FACT wants answers from MICT", Freedom Against Censorship Thailand, 9 February 2007
  40. ^ Office of the Official Information Commission (O.I.C.), website

External links[edit]