A Petition to the Human Rights Commission of Thailand

November 22, 2006


On November 15, 2006, Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) submitted the following petition to Jaran Dithapichai, Chair of the Freedom of Expression subcommittee and commissioner for the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.

As of February 1, 2007, MICT has failed to respond to requests for evidence and testimony before the NHRC. Please sign this petition! Censorship has no place in a democratic Thailand.

A Petition to the Human Rights Commission of Thailand

The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology was established in government in 2003.From at least January 2004, the date of the last blocklist to made publicly available, MICT has been exercising its power of government to block websites, nominally deemed to be hosting “improper, obscene or illegal” content. In January 2004, MICT blocked 1247 websites by Uniform Record Locator (URL) or Internet Protocol (IP) address.

MICT does not have the technical capability to physically block websites so this process is accomplished by periodic informal email requests to each Thai Internet Service Provider (ISP), including private servers such as those within academic communities.

It appears that, under the operating licences granted to ISPs by the Telecommunications Authority of Thailand and the Telecommunications Act, ISPs are required to accede to these MICT “requests”. Punitive sanctions for failure to accede include bandwidth restrictions, thus restricting an ISP’s income, or even loss of licence.The Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT), which provides Thailand’s Internet access to the world, also appears to be involved in the blocking of websites as does the Royal Thai Police. However, since none of this information has been made public, we are unsure of that process.

Although MICT stated to the ThaiDay section of The International Herald Tribune that it was planning to block more than 10,000 additional sites deemed to be “pornographic”, as of October 13, 2006, 2475 websites appear to be being blocked. However, the website of the Royal Thai Police states that some 32,467 websites have been blocked as illegal since censorship of the Internet began in Thailand in April 2002. The Royal Thai Police website further characterises “more than half” of those blocked to be “pornographic” and 3,571, or 11 per cent, to be “a threat to national security”.

While more than 76% of the blocked websites were declared pornographic or related to either prostitution or the sale of sex aids, we the public need full and transparent disclosure from the Ministry regarding the remaining percentages and precisely the manner in which these sites constitute “a threat” from which we need government protection.It has become apparent to consumers that some websites on the blocklist are not, in fact, being blocked but that many more sites are being blocked than appear on the blocklist.

Furthermore, since September 19, MICT is also blocking public discussion fora in which comments and replies are posted to moderated or unmoderated webboards such as those at Prachatai, Pantip and Midnight University. We find such censorship ironic, at the least, coming from the Ministry of INFORMATION. Midnight University has taken their web-blocking to court (Case No. 1811/2549) and the court has granted them a temporary restraining order forcing MICT to unblock their site. Enquiries to MICT by owners of blocked websites and answered with denials of blocking which have then been proved to be outright lies.

Further, MICT Permanent Secretary, Kraesorn Pornsuthee, and a major voice of support for such censorship, has been appointed to the new National Legislative Council and is supported in his views supporting censorship by MICT’s new Acting Minister, Dr. Sitthichai Pokai-udom.

MICT has stated that objectionable websites are placed into nine categories. On examination of the October 13, 2006 blocklist provided not by MICT but by an ISP, no websites appear in categories 1-3. Although there are a few websites in categories 4 and 5, their objectionable content is not clear.

Prior to the October 13 blocklist, categories were quite discrete. Presently, some overlap occurs, with objectionable content relegated to any of MICT’s categories.

The largest grouping is, predictably, Category 6, which appears to be pornography of various persuasions. Pornography is specifically illegal in Thailand, although it is publicly available in every shopping mall and on every street, both in Bangkok and in the provinces.

There are, of course, procedures to be followed by the Royal Thai Police, including requests to Interpol, to have the offending content removed in the foreign countries where the servers are located without any involvement whatsoever of MICT. The present approach by MICT could not even begin to stop Internet pornography in Thailand or anywhere else as there are now more than two billion distinct websites, including at least ten million pornographic sites.

Is blocking millions of sites A) within MICT’s capabilities, B) worth the huge expenditure necessary or C) just a smokescreen for a far more sinister political agenda?

MICT has claimed on August 15, 2006 (Maneerat Plipat, Deputy Permanent Secretary), that Thailand is among “the top five nations in [sic] pornographic websites” but fails to provide statistics or details regarding this outlandish statement; MICT further concludes that the solution lies in “more laws and regulations”. On July 20, 2006 MICT (Suchai Charoenratanakul, Acting Minister) refined its worries that the Internet “exposes children to improper contents which might create social problems (sic)”.

We should take pains to point out at this point that gambling is also illegal in Thailand. MICT has added Internet gambling sites to its October 13, 2006 blocklist in Category 6.

Category 7 appears to consist of anonymous proxy servers, used effectively in China and many other countries to evade web censorship of precisely the same sort we see from MICT. This is clearly undemocratic as public policy and violates both Section 37 of the 1997 Constitution and the Telecommunications Act.

Most recently, as of October 2006, 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 websites by keyword searches which has also been used by the company as a tool for political repression in China.

Category 8 appears to consist of websites containing Thai political content with many focussing on the South, in particular, the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO). Even if PULO is a banned organisation, is it legal to block PULO’s public appeals to the United Nations? This also is clearly undemocratic as public policy and violates both Section 37 of the Constitution and the Telecommunications Act.

Category 9 appears to consist of websites which content concerns the Thai monarchy. As we are not able to view the content of these sites we should examine MICT’s past actions in which the entire website of Yale University, one of the world’s most respected universities and which number Thai Royalty among their alumni.

It is interesting to note that of the 50 sites in categories 8 and 9, only 7 sites are still active. None of these sites appear to be critical of the Thai monarchy but all are critical of the former TRT government and its caretaker PM regarding the bloody situation in the Muslim South and content critical of the September 19 coup d’etat. MICT claims authority to have blocked “not less than 20” of these websites by Order 5/2549. Who exactly in our current government requested MICT’s assistance to block critical websites?

Typically, when an Internet consumer in Thailand attempted to access one of the blocked websites, the request was redirected to the CyberInspector / CyberClean sections of MICT. MICT claims the blocking of websites is not done in secret because the consumer will see a blocked notice when navigating to a blocked site.

After claiming that the blocking of websites is not done in secret, MICT further refuses to provide the list of blocked websites because this list could be somehow used in some unspecified improper manner. We must point out that, if MICT will not provide the Thai public with a COMPLETE list of the websites MICT has “requested” to be blocked by ISPs, then, de facto, IT IS SECRET!

However, as of October 13, MICT’s approach is not as direct. The user receives a denial of service message if an attempt is made to access a blocked website. These include Access Denied (policy_denied) (improper/obscene website); Network Error (dns_server_failure); Network Error (tcp_error) (Operation timed out); and browser error messages: Can’t find the server; Can’t open the page (bad server responce); and Can’t open the page (server stopped responding). These responces are called “transparent proxy” where the user is redirected without his knowledge and is unable to do anything to prevent it. These messages lead the user to believe the problem is with the ISP or browser rather than blocked websites.

There appear to be crucial unanswered questions:

A) All government is required to act within the framework of law. Specifically, what are the relevant Thai laws, regulations, directions or administrative orders which empower MICT to “request” the blocking of websites in Thailand?

In the absence of such legal framework, MICT is in contravention of Section 37 of the 1997 Thai Constitution, which strictly prohibits any disruption to communication: “A person shall enjoy the liberty of communication by lawful means. The censorship…of communication between persons..shall not be made except BY VIRTUE OF A LAW SPECIFICALLY ENACTED for security of the State or maintaining public order or good morals.” [Our emphasis.]

MICT has funded a study from Sukhothai Thammathirat University on how to use existing laws to enforce website blocking. The need for such a study, MICT states is that A CRIMINAL COMPUTER LAW HAS NEVER BEEN RATIFIED BY GOVERNMENT [our emphasis]. Unfettered communication is enshrined in the 1997 Thai Constitution as a fundamental principle of law; MICT is attempting to subvert and undermine this foundation by devious means.

B) MICT has also refused to make public the criteria by which it blocks websites. Who exactly determines such criteria?

C) MICT further will not provide their definition of the terms “improper”, “obscene” or “illegal”. I.e., The term “improper” is a very broad term, relying entirely on individual interpretation. The term “obscene” is commonly related to community standards within each community; e.g., for many years, the depiction of navels or pubic hair was considered obscene in Japan. The term “illegal” is an extremely precise term; to declare web content illegal, MICT
MUST be able to show the relevant Thai law which it is deemed to violate. The term “illicit” can have no force in law.

D) Who, exactly, at MICT determines which websites should be blocked?

E) Is this decision to block a website made by individuals or is each decision referred to a committee for further review, consideration and determination?

F) Which distinct person at MICT has oversight over these individuals and committee and finally approves this list of websites to be blocked?

G) And, of course, who is the single individual within MICT who takes final responsibility for Internet censorship?

H) The refusal of MICT to provide any of the information above is in clear violation of the Information of Government Act 2540.

A classic example is that of the IPIED Internet servers at Thammasat University. Although Thammasat’s contract with Samart specifically prohibits the blocking of websites, in February 2006 Samart informed IPIED that it would commence web
blocking at the request of MICT, thus violating the terms of its contract with the University.

I) MICT also refuses to identify the Thai and international police, regulatory and government agencies with which it cooperates in the blocking of websites and the form and extent of such cooperation.

There exist many “free” websites to which any individual may post a personal web page containing absolutely anything. In English, Angelfire, Geocities, and MANY others provide this service, hosting millions of public web pages, each reached by an individual URL and IP address. To block these entire domains is equivalent to shutting down the Internet in Thailand.

MICT’s approach is to block entire domains in order to censor a single objectionable web page. MICT makes a conscious decision as to how far Thai people will be allowed to determine what is “bad” for themselves.

J) MICT must separately identify the blocking of Internet fora, stating specific reasons for such censorship of public discussions.

K) As search engines such as Google are being asked to block websites using keywords, what exactly are the keywords?

This process has vast potential for abuse, abuse which is occurring now. For example, there are many companies who might like to ban a few competing commercial interests and many members of the public with a grudge. It is very easy to “request” MICT to block a website; to add further potential for abuse, one can make this request of MICT anonymously.

For a long time, CyberClean/CyberInspector offered no means to request MICT to unblock a website. However, currently, an individual can request unblocking but this process is far-from-easy to find and, furthermore, requires the consumer to provide his identity and email address. This gives far more weight to blocking than unblocking.

We estimate that at least 40% of all Thai graduate students will be unable to complete thorough, effective theses or dissertations due to blocked websites. This means these Thai graduates will never be able to compete with international graduates. It should also be noted that we have a dearth of libraries available in Thailand, especially in the provinces; the Internet is, for many, the only source for research and information.

Every Internet user in Thailand encounters dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of websites blocked for undetermined reasons. This situation impacts on academic research, business competition and media freedom, among many other fundamental rights and freedoms. Its direct result is to create a public that does not have access to a fully-informed worldview.

MICT has also blocked the websites of two prestigious American universities, Yale and Tufts. Yale appears to have been unblocked. However, surely it cannot be considered in the best interests of the Thai public, students and educators to block one of the world’s most respected universities from which members of the Royal Family are counted as alumni.

If MICT actually believes this process is of benefit to the Thai public, that certain websites should be censored from Thai people even though they are easily accessed from overseas, then MICT must make this process transparent and open as befitting a democracy: 1) Let’s see the law, 2) Let’s see the reasons, 3) Let’s see the list.

At the heart of MICT’s defence of Internet censorship are websites hosting content MICT determines to insult the monarchy. Obviously, we all have a deep and abiding love for His Majesty and the Royal Family. However, to examine MICT’s website categories, not a single one of the websites in Category 9 is even active. Seriously, would any web content whatsoever affect our devotion to the Royal Family?

MICT’s second major excuse for Internet censorship centres on pornography. However, there are completely adequate laws and police powers to deal with this legal issue, both locally and internationally. We feel Thai society would be better served by addressing these legal and social issues locally not by Internet censorship.

If one eliminates those two reasons for Internet censorship, the only reason which remains is political censorship. We therefore consider the previous issues to be merely a smokescreen obscuring abject political thought control. We seek the fully-informed free exchange of all ideas and opinions.

The blocking of websites or, in fact, any government censorship of freedom of expression, is most often used by an insecure government in a feeble attempt at control of its citizens. Usually the censorship is directed against views government deems unconventional or unorthodox, if not an outright threat to power, as in Burma or China or North Korea or, in fact, in the USA using its
PATRIOT Act. Thailand is not Burma or China or North Korea (yet). Perhaps Aung San Suu Kyi said it best: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

MICT is a public agency and its staff public servants. Thai people pay for MICT’s operations. We have a fundamental right to know.

If we permit this seemingly small, innocuous erosion of our freedoms through censorship, all our other freedoms will relentlessly follow. We believe Internet censorship is a chilling attempt by self-serving bureaucracy to stifle our freedom of thought and ideas.

Thailand is at a crossroads in history. We can choose liberty and creativity or we can choose blindness and oppression.

The Internet is presently the only forum in which all opinions are equal. Should not any person judge the validity of those opinions for themselves? We do not believe the World Wide Web should be in any manner curtailed, censored or managed anywhere.

Internet censorship is improper, obscene and illegal in a democratic Thailand.

We welcome your public, thorough and comprehensive investigation into this clear abrogation of these fundamental human rights and civil liberties in Thailand.

Thank you.

CJ Hinke <facthai AT gmail.com>, <cj AT tu.ac.th> Tel 087-976-1880 (English)
สุภิญญา กลางนรงค์ <freemediafreepeople AT gmail.com> โทร 086-788-9322 (ภาษาไทย)

6 Responses to “A Petition to the Human Rights Commission of Thailand”

  1. […] FACT is maintaining a very active and constantly updated [blog] campaign, reporting on censorship, running petitions, providing circumvention tools and guides (in Thai and English) for anonymous blogging and […]

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