by Tim Conneally, February 5, 2009, 2:52 PM
Thailand map (square)In light of the Thai government’s strict censorship rules, anti-censorship group Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) released information yesterday that it describes as ‘easy, legal tools for circumventing Internet censorship.’
The government of Thailand has repeatedly come to blows with Web sites both domestic and foreign over free speech issues. YouTube, for example, was banned for four months in 2007 for hosting content deemed offensive to Thais, and a reported 4,800 sites were blocked by the Information and Communication Technology Ministry (ICT) in March 2008.
Since the institution of the Computer Crime Act of 2007, censorship has become an issue of paramount importance to Thailand.
From the unofficial translation of the law:
Section 14. If any person commits any offence of the following acts shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht or both: (1) that involves import to a computer system of forged computer data, either in whole or in part, or false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage to that third party or the public; (2) that involves import to a computer system of false computer data in a manner that is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic; (3) that involves import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code;
While no official blacklist has been published by the government, FACT proclaimed yesterday that the number of sites blocked by the ICT and Royal Thai Police now exceeds 50,000.
Since the Royal Thai Army’s coup d’etat in 2006, there has been ongoing political turmoil in the country, which has lately manifested itself in the conflict between the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the People’s Power Party (PPP). Thai message boards have gone ablaze with political discourse, but police censorship continues to threaten seditious sites.
The Bangkok Post spoke to ICT Minister Ranongruk Suwunchwee last week who said she has single-handedly ordered sites to be blocked without court authority to bypass the red tape of doing it legally.
Thailand’s constitutional courts certainly have had a lot on their hands, with the Prime Minister and his six-party coalition representing the PPP on trial for election fraud. The court on Tuesday dissolved the PPP, the Machima Thipatai party and the Chart Thai party, forcing the Prime Minister — who ceded power in early December — along dozens of party execs into a five-year political exile.
Meanwhile, FACT yesterday issued its ‘easy, legal tools for circumventing Internet censorship,’ to protect the rights of Internet users in this tumultuous period. The group’s solutions involve using VPNs to create a secure exchange of data.
‘Your own private network is located overseas beyond the reach of Thai censors using an encrypted tunnel so that governments and ISPs won’t even be able to see where you’re surfing,’ said the group’s statement yesterday, ‘Unlike anonymous Internet proxies, criminal under the cybercrime law, using VPN makes streaming video and audio freely available.’