Internet censorship in Thailand
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, emergency decrees, a new cybercrimes law, and an updated Internal Security Act. Year by year Internet censorship has grown, with its focus shifting to lèse majesté, national security, and political issues. By 2010, estimates put the number of websites blocked at over 110,000. In December 2011, a dedicated government operation, the Cyber Security Operation Center, was opened. Between its opening and March 2014, the Center told ISPs to block 22,599 URLs.
The national constitution provides for freedom of expression and press "as regulated by law"; but, the government imposes overwhelming limitations on these rights. 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. Thailand is on Reporters Without Borders list of countries under surveillance in 2011.
In 2013, Freedom House, one year prior to the 2014 coup d'état, awarded Thailand a 'partly free' rating for internet freedom. In 2014, it awarded Thailand an overall score of 62 ("not free") (0=best, 100=worst), citing substantial political censorship and the arrests of bloggers and other online users, ranking it 52 of 65 countries. As of 2019, Thailand remained 'not free', with an overall score of 35, fourth worst in the Asia-Pacific region, after China, Vietnam, and Pakistan.
- 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", as minister to head MICT.
In October 2006, MICT blocked 2,475 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. 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). 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 websites and block 1,200 more, all alleged to have disturbed the social order or endangered national security.
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.
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.
URLs blocked by court order:
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:
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
In late 2011, the government announced the creation of the Cyber Security Operations Center (CSOC). CSOC pro-actively monitors websites and social media, and provides ISPs with a rapidly updated blocklist, including postings on Twitter and Facebook. There is no judicial review of the CSOC blocklist.
Articles 18(2) and 18(3) of the 2017 Computer Crime Act (CCA) would allow user-related data and traffic data to be accessed by authorities without a court order under probable cause to assist with investigations related to an offense under the CCA or other laws. And Article 18(7) would allow authorities with a court order to compel service providers in assisting with the decryption of encoded data, undermining the use of encryption tools as a protection of user privacy.
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.
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.
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. 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.
New OONI data reveals the blocking of 13 websites in Thailand across 6 different ISPs, between 6 November 2016 and 27 February 2017. Thai ISPs appear to primarily be implementing censorship through DNS hijacking and through the use of middle boxes (HTTP transparent proxies) which serve block pages.
Examples of websites blocked
19 September Network against Coup d'Etat
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.
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
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?] More recently,[when?] all international coverage of Thaksin-in-exile has been blocked, including interviews with the deposed PM.
Webboards and discussion forums
Internet webboards and discussion forums such as Midnight University, Prachatai.com 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
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 remainder legal to display in Thailand. The YouTube site block persisted for nearly five months, despite the fact that the video challenged by MICT was voluntarily deleted by the user who posted it.
Websites containing lèse majesté content
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 King Bhumibol. The arrest was reportedly the first lèse majesté charge against a Thai Facebook user. In response, Amnesty International named Wipas Thailand's first prisoner of conscience in nearly three decades.
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. 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.
Websites about the book The King Never Smiles
Although the independent biography of Thailand's King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, The King Never Smiles 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.
- 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.
- The Thai baht article had all images removed.
Wayback Machine Internet archive
Aftermath of 2014 coup d'état
Following the 2014 Thai coup d'état, the junta, through MICT, instructed Internet providers in Thailand to block access to Facebook temporarily on 28 May 2014. Despite claims of technical issues by the junta, the permanent secretary of MICT and Telenor, parent of Thai mobile phone operator dtac, later admitted that the blocks were done deliberately
The Facebook page "Royalist Marketplace" was launched as a forum by academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun to discuss and criticize the Thai monarchy freely. The Thai authorities shut down access in Thailand to the Facebook page, which has accumulated around one million users, and which Facebook may be appealing, while Pavin is facing a charge of cybercrime. He has since launched a replacement Facebook page. A Facebook spokesperson stated, “Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves... We work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request.”
Opposition to Internet censorship
Interference in communications, 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, 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 has filed petitions simultaneously with the NHRC and Thailand's Administrative Court. 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)
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) 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. 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 under the Official Information Act of 1997. The request contains 20 questions and is signed by 257 individuals supported by 57 international civil liberties and human rights groups. 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 in the prime minister's office. FACT stated that, should the complaint fail, it would seek a restraining order against further censorship through Thailand's legal system.
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 MICT 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."
Post-2014 coup situation
The 2014 coup worsened the state of internet freedom when the junta began amending the 2007 Computer Crime Act to enable greater suppression and surveillance. In 2016 the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand hosted a panel discussion entitled Dealing with Computer Crime, summarizing:
Thailand is in the midst of amending its Computer Crimes Act to enhance authorities' surveillance, and data suppression and removal powers. This comes against the background of increased cyber crime and global terrorism, but also at a major transition for Thailand, whose military government is particularly alert to what it deems national security threats. Internet and rights activists, have criticized the amendments which they say will adversely affected people's rights and liberties.— Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand
In August 2017, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) informed Internet Service providers like Facebook and Youtube that they needed to remove pages that violated Thai laws regarding internet content. The statement set a deadline of August 7 for the removal of all illegal web pages and threatened the providers with losing their licenses to provide content in the country.
In September 2020, the authorities attempted to block more than 2,200 websites ahead of a 19 September rally, part of the 2020 Thai protests. Following the rally, Buddhipongse Punnakanta, Minister of Digital Economy and Society, filed a complaint with police to prosecute Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for failing to delete posts in a timely manner, the first time the Computer Crimes Act has been used against foreign service providers.
Royal Thai Army Information Operations
In October 2020, Twitter took down a "low-intensity" Royal Thai Army information operation apparently designed to stifle and influence democratic opinion on social media regarding Army scandals and democratic processes in the country, as part of a major wider investigation by Facebook and Twitter into attempts to influence the 2020 US Presidential Election.
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