Thailand Restricts Internet Freedom, Cyber Activists Work

A Thai man was sentence on June 9, 2017 to 35 years imprisonment for posting Facebook posts. He allegedly cyber insulted the King. This harsh sentence is only one example of Thailand’s growing repression in digital space. The Thai military junta has taken a tough stance against online criticisms and dissidence since the coup in 2014.

Authorities threatened to shut down Facebook in May if it didn’t remove inappropriate content. Facebook has not close down for not complying with the threat. At least not yet.

Cyber Repression In Thailand

Thailand’s cyber repression may be related to its turbulent history of military coups. The Computer Crime Act, which authorized state agencies to block any internet content that was deem to be a threat to national safety, was pass at the time of the 2006 military coup. It encouraged web users (many of whom were young) to report and monitor transgressions on the internet.

The initial effort was prompt by alarm over the fact that two of the main political factions in the country, the yellow shirts and red shirts, had taken the fight to cyberspace. The red shirts voiced opposition to the coup and questioned the monarchy. After the coup in May 2014, which was stage to promote royal secessionist status and maintain elite status quo in Thailand, internet control grew dramatically.

Hundreds of websites were block in May 2014. Working groups were form to analyze and monitor internet content. This increased control was accompanied with a dramatic rise in lesemajeste charges against critics and dissidents as well as ordinary citizens. Long jail sentences were also possible for non-criminal offenses like liking or sharing a Facebook message or post that insults the monarchy.

The Single Gateway proposal was introduce in 2015 to monitor internet content. It aimed to reduce the 12 existing internet gateways and create a single state-controlled portal.

Attack On The Single Gateway Policy

Pro-democracy activists from Thailand and civic groups wage a brave battle against these ongoing encroachments upon digital privacy. The Single Gateway plan was cleverly opposed by those who were not concerned about digital rights and freedoms of expression. However, they were raised in the debate. But the opposition was focused on larger issues such as ecommerce and the economy.

Concerned that the proposal would slow down internet connectivity in Thailand, some business groups raised concerns that the Single Gateway might discourage foreign investment in Thailand. The attempt to restrict internet access was also resent by ordinary people. Thailand has a 42% internet penetration rate. More than 29 million people use the internet to communicate, entertain, and order food online.

Techies and online gamers were concerned that the policy might slow down their online gaming experience and expose their personal information

Three Types Of Cyber Activism

Among these many concerns, there were three types of activism. The Internet Foundation for the Development of Thailand (THANETIzen Network) created a petition online in order to collect signatures against Single Gateway and provide information to citizens regarding the potential consequences of the proposed legislation.

Other discussion forums have also appeared on Facebook and other social media platforms. People from all walks of Thai society joined the discussion on internet control by joining groups such as The Single Gateway: Thailand Internet Firewall and Anti Single Gateway.

To wage cyber war against the Thai government, an anonymous group called itself the Thailand F5 Cyber Army used a distributed Denial of Services (DDoS). It demanded that the junta cancel its Single Gateway policy. They advised netizens not to visit the Ministry of Defense, National Legislative Assembly, and the Internal Security Operation Centre.

Many government websites temporarily shut down due to the attacks. This virtual civil disobedience was combine with other forms resistance worked. The junta declare that the plan had been abandon on October 15, 2015.

Computer Crime Act Campaign

However, the victory was short-live. The junta suggest that the 2007 Computer Crime Act be modify to better combat cyber threats to national security. They claimed it would aid in the development of Thailand’s digital economy. Again, activists were ready for a fight. Public criticism took a new form this time due to the law-and order frame of the amendment.

The concerns of the business sector about the economic consequences of internet control were abandon to concentrate on the proposed law’s broad threat to legal sanctions against violators. They feared that this fear would lead online self-censorship.

Online forums were use by netizens to discuss the effects of cyber law. This include the fact that the law was gear toward increasing sentences against loosely define cyber law offenders. These crimes could as simple as sharing a post on Facebook that is deem to be a threat to national moral integrity or distorted information.

Thai Network of Netizens and iLaw, rights groups, took to Twitter to engage with progressive online magazines and raise awareness about the issue. They also collaborated with environmental activists who had been subject to abuses of the Computer Crime Act by local authorities.

The F5 Cyber Army continued to attack government websites and provided manuals for ordinary citizens to wage cyberwar. A petition was also submit online to the National Legislative Assembly. It received over 300,000 signatures. However, the popular discontent was ignore. The Assembly passed the amended Computer Crime Act on December 16, 2016.