2012 in review

January 1, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy Halloween!

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.





CJ Hinke

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)

Bangkok: October 31, 2555




[FACT comments: Boob censorship! We think surveillance is the fun part…]

An Interview With NYC’s Topless Activist

Moira Johnston wants to “expand the vocabulary and definition” of breasts: “They can be non-sexual in any culture.”

Shiuan Butler

AlterNet: July 19, 2012



Moira Johnston is 29 years old and lives in lower Manhattan. She shops at Whole Foods and practices yoga in Union Square. She visits her family often. She’s also a “topfreedom” activist who recently began receiving media attention for walking around in public without a shirt on.

Johnston, who started going topless in public this past January, recently shared her thoughts about her life and activism with AlterNet. Naturally, Johnston was topless throughout the interview, which was conducted in New York’s Union Square. During that time, one female passerby told Johnston politely but firmly that she should put a shirt o; a man asked her about her views on polyamory; and another woman expressed support for Johnston’s cause. But Johnston says most people — men and women — simply turn away in embarrassment.

Johnston argues that gender discrimination is a civil rights violation, and if men are allowed to go topless in public then so should women. In fact, women are legally allowed to go topless in New York state. The same is true of several other states around the country, though many cities have anti-female toplessness ordinances in place. (Topless activists argue that such ordinances are unconstitutional.)

So who is the woman who has the ovaries to fight topless discrimination in New York City?

Shiuan Butler: Are you topless all the time?

Moira Johnston: I do go topless as much as possible. In public, I’m usually topless. Unless I go into some kind of business that requires shirts. Then I wear a shirt.

SB: I was wondering about that. Like Starbucks — they have shirt requirements.

MJ: Yeah.

SB: How was your first time going topless?

MJ: It was very draining. [laughs]

SB: In what way?

MJ: Just the response it gets from people, and it’s a lot of talking to people. Doing something that’s different from the social norm can be draining energetically.

SB: What is your main reason for going topless?

MJ: My main reason is to educate the public about women’s rights. People don’t know that it’s legal for women to be topless in the whole state of New York. So it’s primarily about raising awareness about that and about equality for women.

SB: I read about how bras can be detrimental to our health by weakening our tendons so we’ll sag more when we’re braless. Is that part of why you go topless?

MJ: It wasn’t part of my thinking initially, but I certainly think it strengthens the case for women to go topless or for women to go braless at least.

SB: How did you first get into topless activism? What inspired you?

MJ: I was practicing yoga at Jivamukti [Yoga School] right here in Union Square and I felt like taking off my shirt during class. I didn’t do it at first. I actually went to the founder and asked her if it was OK because a lot of my male counterparts practice without a shirt there and in other yoga studios as well. So I practiced yoga topless and a bunch of people complained about it, and so I realized that they didn’t know it was legal. That’s what inspired me to become more active about letting people know that it’s legal.

There are other yoga studios in the city that are saying that men are allowed to practice without a shirt but women are not allowed to. And that is actually against the law. It’s a civil rights violation to make a distinction based on the sex of a person. And so the more people become aware that it is legal for women to be topless, the more that won’t be an issue in places like businesses.

SB: What’s the most hilarious or best reaction to your toplessness that you recall?

MJ: Best reaction? [laughs] Well, I don’t know if you know I was falsely arrested.

SB: Yes, I did read that.

MJ: That I guess was one of the worst things that has happened because I was near the children’s park right over there [in Union Square] and a bunch of adults called and complained about it. And I had never been arrested before so that was kind of traumatizing.

SB: Were the cops rough with you?

MJ: It was just humiliating. It’s not really cool to get taken away and go to a jail cell for not doing anything wrong.

SB: What is your end goal? What do you hope to achieve through your activism, other than raising awareness?

MJ: This issue of women being able to show their breasts is related to a lot of other issues around women’s rights. For instance, it’s related to breast-feeding. I feel that if people felt more comfortable with just seeing breasts in public, breast-feeding wouldn’t be so socially stigmatized. Another thing is our bodies don’t have to be sexualized or commercialized. The way we see it now in American culture, female breasts are seen in an exclusively sexual or commercial territory. I want to expand the vocabulary and definition of what breasts are. They can be non-sexual in any culture.

SB: Guys have boobs too.

MJ: Right. And then there’s the idea that it’s against the law to be sexy or something. It’s OK for women’s breasts to be sexual. And for some women a man’s chest can be very sexual as well. And that’s OK. We’re sexual. Human beings are sexual. We can be non-sexual. We can be civil. We can act in an appropriate way in a social circumstance. But there’s really no escaping the sexuality of humanity, what it is to be human.

SB: Do you want to be nude in public too?

MJ: No. Not really. I don’t consider myself a nudist, although people do ask me often if I’m a nudist. But that would be like asking a guy who’s not wearing a shirt if he’s a nudist. I feel like to me that’s the same thing. The same issue. It’s known as “topfreedom.”

SB: Oh, I like that.

MJ: There’s actually a Web site. It’s the Topfree Equal Rights Association. They’re a Canadian organization. They have a lot of material and information that addresses the issue of topfreedom and equality between men and women.

Find out more about Moira Johnston on her Facebook fanpage.

Shiuan Butler is an Asian American feminist, entrepreneur and blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @shiuanbutler.

Routing Gone Wild: Documenting upstream filtering in Oman via India

CitizenLab: July 12, 2012



Key Findings

• Data collected from Oman shows that web filtering applied by India-based ISPs is restricting access to content for customers of an ISP in Oman. While unusual, content filtering undertaken in one political jurisdiction can have an effect on users in another political jurisdiction as a result of ISP routing arrangements – a phenomenon known as “upstream filtering.”

• Content found to be filtered includes news sites, political blogs and file sharing sites.

• Some variability in filtering was documented, potentially linked to certain measures to loosen filtering regulations in India.


The OpenNet Initiative1 (ONI) has investigated Internet filtering and surveillance practices since 2003 and has documented national-level filtering of the Internet in over forty countries.2 Traditionally, such filtering is implemented by Internet service providers (ISPs) at the request of governments for the purpose of restricting content available to domestic audiences. In general, conventional web filtering is designed for exclusively domestic impact, though other forms of content control, such as takedown requests, may affect access across borders.

However, content filtration is not always limited by jurisdiction. ISPs may engage in peering3 or transit agreements4 with other providers as a means of gaining access to the broader Internet. If ISPs peer with providers who filter the connection provided to their peers, that filtering may be passed on to the ISP’s user base. While unusual, past ONI research has documented this practice, known as “upstream filtering,” on several occasions. For example, in 2009, ONI research in Kyrgyzstan found that a number of websites, including news sites and blogging platforms, were inaccessible as a result of blocking by the state ISP in Kazakhstan, which sells its service to KyrgyzTelecom.5 Similar behaviour was observed in Uzbekistan in 2004, where content filtering on one Uzbek ISP closely matched that seen in China, a finding supplemented by evidence that this ISP was purchasing connectivity service from China Telecom.6

This brief documents and analyzes the upstream filtering of web content for users of Oman’s Omantel ISP as a result of content restrictions implemented in India. Both India and Oman, it should be noted, already have domestic filtering regimes in place. Previous research by the OpenNet Initiative on Omantel has documented filtering of Internet content related to pornography, circumvention tools, gay and lesbian content, as well as content critical of religion.7 Similar research by the OpenNet Initiative has found that ISPs in India selectively filter content relating to conflict/security and Internet tools, with a high degree of variability between ISPs.8 Read the rest of this entry »

China Turned Michelangelo’s David Into Porn

Alexander Abad-Santos

The Atlantic:  July 10, 2012



In one of the more amusing and intriguing stories of Chinese censorship, it appears state-run China Central Television just couldn’t decide whether or not Michelangelo’s David was classified as porn, so they decided to pixelate the statue’s famous junk.  “[E]ditors from China’s CCTV decided to blur-out parts of Michelangelo’s ‘David-Apollo’ statue, triggering criticism and a barrage of jokes from hundreds of thousands of internet users,” reports The Telegraph’s Tom Phillips, adding that CCTV was reporting from an opening of a major Renaissance exhibition at Beijing’s National Museum of China. Jokes like “The real David has a penis” and comments like “Without the mosaic [the pixelation], it is art. With the mosaic, it has become porno,” floated on China’s social media outlets and web portals like Weibo and NetEase, reports Phillips.

The odd thing is, and we’re not sure (and may never know) if whoever is in charge of CCTV was moved by the Internet outrage and mocking, that CCTV decided to un-blur David in a subsequent broadcast. “CCTV removed the mosaics when it rebroadcast the program at about 3:54 pm on July 9. As of the morning of July 10, CCTV had not offered any explanation for adding or removing the mosaics,” reported China Daily’s An Baijie. Bending to free speech would be unusual for the China, considering how seriously the country takes censorship.

While we don’t know what moved CCTV to change its mind about the pixelation, the country’s Xinhua news agency (by way of BusinessInsider) reported, “China will launch a renewed campaign to crack down on the distribution of pornographic material, the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said Monday.” So, if it you or I were the guy/gal in the editing booth with our finger on the pixelation trigger with stringent Chinese law enforcement looming in the background, we too might err the same way CCTV did.

John Koetsier

VentureBeat: July 4, 2012



A bill created by all four parties in the Russian parliament would censor the internet in Russia, creating a unified blacklist to block access to websites containing “banned pornography, drug ads and promoting suicide or extremist ideas.”

The bill, which is really a series of amendments to existing laws, was originally drafted in June, according to Ria Novosti, a Russian news agency, but will be presented to legislators this week, on July 6. If the amendments pass, Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal service for supervision of communications, IT, and mass media, will be in charge of the blacklist and will work through a non-profit organization to monitor compliance.

When a website is found to contain illegal content, the government agency will give the owner of the site 24 hours to remove it. Failing that removal, the site will be entered on the blacklist. In some cases, such as sites advocating violence, the courts may need to get involved.

Opposition has already arisen, comparing the Russian effort to China-style “great firewall” censorship.

As the Financial Times has reported, the country has already seen questionable cases of harassment and attempted censorship on .ru domains. Compromat.ru, which publishes stories on official corruption in Russia, was closed by a Moscow prosecutor, and moscow-post.ru, a news site, suffered a similar fate. Both websites subsequently relocated to .net or .com domains.

Even the Kremlin’s own human rights watchdog is complaining, saying that it is important to stop censorship on Russian language websites. And the Voice of Russia reported that Minister of Communications and Mass Media Nikolai Nikiforov does not “appreciate the bill in its current form.”

Regardless, the bill may be passed in first reading, says RAPSI, the Russian Legal Information Agency.


If the TV went a breast too far, then turn it off

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post: June 23, 2012



Ray Bradbury was right: Television destroys culture and makes us dumb. Turn on the blow-torch and burn books, because the mass hypnotism prescribed by TV is the status quo of modern consciousness. Regardless of your race or religion, your colour and your god, your sex or age, everyone has the same altar upon which daily worshipping is proffered, prime-time or otherwise. Every house has the same shrine, flickering, rectangular, sucking the hologrammed gods from space.

The problem is addiction, for we can’t take our weary eyes off it. If television has been such a cause of distress, infamy and national hysteria during the whole month – starting with the “black screen” of European football to the abstract-expressionist breast-painting in Thailand’s Got Talent that would shame the entire modernist canon from Pollock to Richter – if TV is so evil, in short, why don’t we just turn it off? Which god or devil compels us to leave it on? We’re all complicit in this idiocy, enslaved by the airwaves, and the only censorship we need comes from us – not from the state – by closing our eyes and turning off the tube.

It’s even more distressing that the breast-painting shock-show has evoked questions we never thought to discuss, from the meaning of art to media ethics, while puritans seize the day to beat the war drum of censorship and the need to preserve Thai values; the Culture Ministry wants to block the YouTube clip of the show because – music please! – it hurts the image of Thailand. Soon the smell of hypocrisy and cheap moralism grows stronger than fresh paint. And just when we thought Workpoint, the show’s producer, was the villain-in-chief, a newspaper upped the ante by tracking down the family of the bare-breasted woman, Duangjai Jansuanoi, in a tabloidesque dispatch that ended with the woman’s mother apologising to the viewers. Apologies to us? What a fatal blow to cap this shameful affair. Yet if we’re too weak to turn off the tube, it’s time to set the record straight. The giddy point that has accompanied the Thailand’s Got Talent uproar over the past week is whether the whole thing was a set-up. The show was supposed to be “real”, with “real” people performing unscripted acts, with the judges (I can’t stand any of them) unprepared for the “real drama” unfolding on stage. The great myth of modern television – the myth that sustains the billion-dollar industry – is that what happens on screen is a direct transport of reality and truth. Such myth is magnified by the proliferation of the most cynical genre called reality TV, from singing contest to human zoo and Whatever Got Talent, and in effect we’re turned into reality junkies addicted to reality porn.

By this I don’t mean porn as in naked flesh. That is simple, even lucid. But I refer to how mainstream TV shows employ the mechanism of porn: an excess of fake reality, of fantasy disguised as actuality, of vulgar sensationalisation, all aiming to stimulate our basest instincts and to boost ratings. This hysteria about topless painting on national television is not an issue of obscenity, as moralists are shrieking about, but of low media literacy among the viewers, which is a bigger problem.

The authorities, in their typical shallowness, confine the debate to the matter of indecency and “inappropriateness” (televised breasts are obscene, televised coup d’etats are not). What they should do instead is broaden the frame of discussion and take the opportunity to push for the cultivation of media literacy, starting by promoting viewers’ immunity against the manipulation of media corporates, against the greedy masquerade and mercenary ploys executed under the banner of “reality” and “talent”. To promote media literacy is to promote critical thinking. It’s to equip the people with necessary resistance against the frightening flux of information, propaganda, advertisements and consumerism. Media literacy also means the end of state censorship, because we can choose to close our own eyes instead of being blindfolded. Media literacy, let’s hope, is also the backbone of democracy, for it’ll help us realise that a televised coup (and many parliamentary sessions) is more obscene than televised breasts.

I opened with Ray Bradbury, so let me end with another sci-fi hero, Philip K Dick: “Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream.” It’s time to turn off the TV.

Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.


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