FACTflash: Day of infamy—Thailand blocks one million web pages
October 31, 2012
Thailand’s first blocklist was created by the Ministry of Information and Communication [sic] Technology in January 2004 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. It blocked 1,247 URLs by name.
Thailand’s first blocklist marked the first and only attempt at transparency by Thailand’s Internet censors. Every subsequent blocklist, the webpages blocked, the reasons for blocking and even the number of pages blocked is held in secret by Thai government.
Thailand’s first blocklist concentrated on the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), a banned group of separatists from Thailand’s deep Muslim south. In subsequent years, we’ve seen how well that censorship strategy worked out. It created an enormous militant insurgency which has resulted in more than 5,000 murders.
Following Thailand’s military coup d’etat on September 19, 2006, the military’s fifth official order on its first day in power was to block the Internet. Under the coup regime, tens of thousands of webpages were blocked.
Most famously, Thailand ramped up its censorship with a complete block of popular video sharing site, YouTube, for seven months in 2007. It appeared Thai censors didn’t have the capacity to block individual videos.
Thailand was the first country to block YouTube, claiming a handful juvenile videos insulting Thailand’s monarchy were a ‘threat to national security’. Following this stand-off, Google, YouTube’s parent company, created a system of geolocational blocking which is now used to block YouTube videos in dozens of repressive regimes.
However, the coup government’s first legislative action was to promulgate the Computer Crimes Act 2007. In its first drafts, the CCA prescribed the death penalty for computer crimes; this was modified in the final law to ‘only’ 20 years in prison.
The CCA contains full censorship powers but also a provision that MICT must seek court orders for blocking. Revealing these court orders would also make blocking information public so all the court orders, paid for by Thai taxpayers, are sealed in secrecy.
An appointed Democrat administration followed the military junta. However, when mass demonstrations in 2010 threatened its power, the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration declared martial law decreeing a state of emergency. The Emergency Decree suspended all normal rule of law, as well as constitutional and international treaty protections for freedom of expression.
The Dems created two military agencies with Orwellian names and even acronyms. The Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) and the Centre for the Administration of Public Order (CAPO) were given complete extralegal power to censor the Internet.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) was just one website to be censored early by the ‘emergency’.
FACT continues to publish leaked blocklists and court orders as well as providing instructions for circumvention of Thai censorship to readers. FACT teaches its readers how to pressure ISPs and govt censors to unblock URLs. FACT has also published censorship blocklists from 16 foreign countries.
However, research by Thailand’s iLaw Foundation revealed that MICT had quietly continued to use the CCA’s provisions for blocking the Internet using court orders. Thai government was ‘legally’ blocking webpages on a wholesale basis, submitting for court order thousands of URLs each time.
The new elected opposition government has continued the folly of its predecessors. It was further revealed that Thai government censorship was rising at a rate of 690 new pages blocked every single day.
Other than court-ordered censorship, Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act has only served one further purpose. Many of Thailand’s scores of political prisoners have been charged with lèse majesté using the CCA.
This has resulted in prison sentences up to 15 years using multiple charges. Charges have not only been brought against content creators but content providers, page designers, webmasters and other intermediaries, including those overseas who dared to visit ‘the land of smiles’.
Furthermore, Thai judges have decreed that hyperlinking to ‘offensive’ or ‘inappropriate’ content is just as criminal as publishing it. Unspecified delay in removing such commentary is also illegal. And so is clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook.
Thailand’s censorship has shown no signs of abating and almost none of the webpages blocked during the ‘emergency’ have been unblocked. In 2012, more than 90,000 Facebook pages were blocked. So are online pharmacies and gambling sites.
Many observers think Thai government censorship solely targets alleged lèse majesté. However, the fact is, we are not allowed the freedom of expression about anything guaranteed by our Constitution.
Meanwhile, Thai censorship that we know about continues to rise at a rate of 690 new blocked URLs every day. In fact, with complete secrecy by Thai censors, the real number is likely to be far higher.
The cost to society by creating a dumbed-down public not in possession of all the facts is impossible to quantify. The economic costs, however, can be. To block 690 web pages, Thai government spends THB 1.5 million (USD $50,000), or THB 2,174 (USD $71) per URL.
To date, Thailand has spent THB 2,173,913,043—more than two billion baht—(almost USD $71 million) to censor our Internet.
On December 28, 2011, Thailand was blocking 777,286 webpages. Today, November 1, 2012, Thailand blocks ONE MILLION URLs—Happy Halloween.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)
Bangkok: October 31, 2555