FACTorial: 2011/2554 – The state of Thailand’s Internet freedom
December 28, 2011
How much does it cost to block 777,286 URLs, over ¾ of a million webpages? Your money: THB ฿1,340,500,000 [USD $43,000,000], more than a billion baht!
Since 2006, Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) has monitored ‘net freedom in Thailand.
In 2001, then-Prime Minister Thaksin, newly elected, established a new ministry for Information and Communication Technology. The PM’s purpose for the ministry was to cement his own personal telecoms contracts and make them legal, net profit in the billions.
Once this mission was accomplished the ICT ministry had nothing to do. So govt decided to censor the Internet.
MICT’s first blocklist in January 2004 listed 1,275 web pages of mostly pornography. Concealed amid the porn pages, govt started to block independent citizen groups calling for autonomy and independence for Patani, Thailand’s Muslim South.
This campaign was particularly directed at the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) founded in 1968. Thailand was now blocking even PULO’s appeals to int’l rights bodies.
The January 2004 blocklist was the first and last ever made public by Thai govt. FACT published ten leaked blocklists from 2006-2009 which founded WikiLeaks. FACT founder CJ Hinke has served on the WikiLeaks int’l advisor board since early 2007.
In 2005, then-PM Thaksin announced plans to block “800,000 websites”. Of course, he meant URLs, but no matter because he was deposed by a military coup d’etat on September 19, 2006.
Ever-predictable, the coup govt’s fifth order of business was to censor the Internet with a vengeance. Most infamously, this effort included the total block of YouTube in Thailand for seven months in 2007 for sophomoric video satires of Thailand’s Royals which govt said constituted lèse majesté. The rule of law was suspended but, even so, all censorship was firmly unconstitutional and therefore illegal.
The first bill tabled before military-appointed National Legislative Assembly was the infamous, draconian Computer Crimes Act which had been waiting in the wings at MICT for just such a repressive moment in history. The CCA’s early drafts included the death penalty for computer “crimes”.
Although the maximum penalty was reduced to “only” 20 years when quickly passed in 2007, the CCA attempted to make govt censorship legal and even give the appearance of fairness. The CCA requires govt to seek court orders for web blocking. However, Thai courts merely rubber stamp these requests which have contained as many as 60,000 URLs at once. This sham allowed MICT to keep its blocklists and even the court orders secret from the public which pays for them.
Successive govts, both elected and appointed following the coup, were quick to implement as much censorship as humanly possible. Such censorship now incorporated social, cultural, religious, dress, gambling, online pharmacies and birth control information although all of these were adequately policed in Thailand’s Criminal Code.
Such censorship reached its most aggressive following the appointed then-PM Abhisit’s Emergency Decree on April 10, 2010. The decree granted the military emergency powers under martial law and once again suspended Thailand’s rule of law. The then-Deputy PM, Suthep Thaugsuban, oversaw the creation of two military agencies, the Orwellian-named CRES and CAPO as primary censorship bodies.
During the period of the 2010 “emergency”, two parallel censorship spheres emerged. CRES and CAPO censored Thailand’s Internet unregulated and unsupervised. MICT, as researched and documented by the iLaw Foundation, continued to seek court orders to block URLs even though it was not required to do so under military law.
When PM Abhisit lifted the “state of emergency” on December 22, 2010, we hoped Internet censorship would be reset to zero. If censorship were necessary, freedom of expression activists and netizens in Thailand hoped such decision would include peer, public and academic review by all stakeholders.
However, censorship remains Thailand’s biggest secret and not one Web page blocked in this period have been unblocked by govt.
For the first time, the money cost of censorship was published. The iLaw Foundation report stated that approximately 690 new URLs are blocked every day. The Nation on December 19 stated that govt spends THB ฿1,500,000 [USD $48,000] each day to block the Internet.
On November 12, Deputy PM Chalerm Yoobamrung proposed to Thailand’s Cabinet to spend THB ฿400,000,000 [USD $12,785,000] to purchase overseas tech equipment and software in order to expand Thailand’s censorship over Web pages hosted in foreign countries. In a display of unprecedented efficiency, this budget allocation was approved, with no debate, the very next day.
On November 14, FACT wrote to US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as well as Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Union. Both have been most outspoken in defence of Internet freedom and supported the funding of anti-censorship initiatives.
FACT expects the United States and the European Union to block the sale and export of any such technology and to impose trade sanctions on Thailand if our govt continues to pursue this disastrous course which cripples public debate and intellectual freedoms.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) has incorporated iLaw figures and govt’s own media releases to determine the true current state of Thailand’s Internet censorship. This includes MICT’s announcements of blocking 26,000 Facebook URLs in August and September, 60,000 in October and November and a further 10,000 on November 23.
On December 28, Thai govt blocked 777,286 Web pages, nearly achieving Thaksin’s own goal. That’s more than ¾ of a million webpages.
At THB ฿1.5 million [USD $48,000] per day, Thai govt has spent THB ฿940,500,000 [USD $30,060,000] to block the Internet at taxpayers’ expence from April 10, 2010, spending THB ฿1,210 [USD $40] per Web page.
If one adds the latest spending of THB ฿400,000,000 [USD $12,785,000] on censorship totaling THB ฿1,340,500,000 [USD $43,000,000], Thailand spends THB ฿1,725 [USD $55] to block each URL.
Just one question remains: Why are you allowing this crime against democracy to continue in your name? Why do you continue to pay for govt censorship?
FACT closes this year with a quotation from Dante Alighieri’s epic 14th century poem, The Inferno: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
The time to speak out is now…
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)