Living in fear of the ‘net police-The Nation

April 15, 2009

BANGKOKIAN
Different worlds need different rules
Thaweeporn Kummetha
The Nation: April 11, 2009

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2009/04/11/opinion/opinion_30100207.php

“In an open zoo, animals seem to have the freedom and liberty to do what they want, but their freedom is just an illusion. They are all confined in a very big cage.”

This was how Chiranuch Premchaiyaporn, webmaster for the non-profit online newspaper Prachatai, began her speech at the Thai Netizen Network’s first meeting recently. She was discussing freedom of speech on the Net.

As webmaster, she had not deleted from her site posts that were deemed lese majeste. As a result, she was charged on March 6 with violating the Computer Crime Act of BE 2550, passed in 2007 by the National Legislative Assembly,appointed by the 2006 coup-makers.

Not only was the raid on her office a nightmare, but it also taught her that liberty did not exist in reality or on cyberspace.

The law was based on the acts regulating publishing, whereby publishers are held accountable for everything in their publications. Accordingly, as webmaster, Chiranuch could be jailed for messages that she did not acknowledge along with those who posted them.

“Webmasters are like librarians who decide what books get put on the shelves,” said Chiranuch. “However, webboards are like the library’s corners, where people can discuss and share ideas on what they have read. Obviously, librarians cannot control what is and isn’t said in those corners.”

Since the Act, some 2,300 websites have been blocked in Thailand and 10 or more people arrested for violating it.

Inevitably, cyber-society is getting fearful, and bloggers are subconsciously censoring themselves.

However, while media activists are concerned that this law is instilling fear in Internet-users, the government’s purpose is to keep online society on track.

At a seminar on computer law, deputy permanent secretary of Information and Communication Technology Angsumal Sunachai said that since a large number of business transactions were made on the Internet nowadays, a law was needed to guarantee credibility.

Meanwhile, Pol Colonel Pisit Paoin, deputy commander of the recently established High-Tech Crime Centre, said the Internet was like any other medium and needed to be controlled so that it did not trespass on other people’s privacy.

The government’s view that online media are the same as offline media nevertheless seems to be maladroit in actual implementation, because the online community has no boundaries and accordingly does not come under the sovereignty of any country where the law can be enforced.

Moreover, as the main distinction of the Internet is anonymity, a law that forces users to reveal their identities only hampers the growth of online society.

“One distinct feature of the Internet is anonymity, the dynamism of the Internet as a source of technology and free culture could be retarded by an enactment as unclear as this,” said Supinya Klangnarong, a media activist and representative of the Thai Netizen Network.

However, all of this leaves one wondering if online media can actually be controlled by the same criteria as offline media. Or should the question be: is the Internet a different world, with a totally different nature, that should have different rules?

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