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Thailand to Follow China’s Lead and Step Up Censorship? (UPDATE)

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is at it again. The man who previously threatened Thai journalists about reporting news that sheds an unfavorable light on the current military junta is now said to be spearheading a plan for more drastic Internet censorship in the country.

This announcement comes after an official release (sorry, in Thai language only), in which top government agencies have been ordered to monitor all online content, especially that from other countries.

But wait a minute, that’s not exactly news, is it? Well, it is and it isn’t.

Muay Thai fighers

The Thai government has long been known to monitor and enforce censorship of various websites that are deemed illegal (or just “inappropriate” for society). This roughly translates to either porn or content that is critical of the royal family. Blocking access has mainly been done selectively, on a case-by-case basis.

What’s more, certain sites that were blocked for a specific reason are sometimes made available again once the issue is resolved. YouTube is a perfect example. Blocked in 2007 due to content that was deemed a grave insult to Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, once the offending video(s) were removed (and YouTube supposedly agreed not to allow content that violates lèse majesté laws in Thailand) the ban was lifted.

What makes this latest censorship plan different is that it proposes to set up a single “gateway” Internet in Thailand, effectively allowing more sweeping censorship measures to be put in place, much like what is happening in China. The idea is already being referred to as “the Great Firewall of Thailand.”

Again, this is not exactly shocking to learn, as Thailand features prominently on lists of nations that have the most severe policies which block access to online content. But the last few years have seen more and more websites blocked, in what could be seen as a buildup to this looming threat.

It will no doubt stir up considerable controversy if it ever goes through.

As if it weren’t bad enough that the Thai government hog-tied the media, monitor millions of LINE users in the country, and banned the underboob… now they want to do this?

What’s next? Is the rest of Southeast Asia (or the world?) going to follow in China’s footsteps also, with increasingly oppressive censorship efforts? Surprisingly, the United Nations seems to be somewhat on board for this.

H/T: CNET

UPDATE   (October 1)
Many of those in opposition to plans for a single Internet gateway are said to have attacked Thai government websites, causing them to go offline temporarily on Wednesday night. These efforts were organized by protestors on social media, primarily by the group “Citizens against Single Gateway”, calling on netizens to coordinate a DDOS attack. This essentially resulted in several sites getting overwhelmed with traffic.

The Bangkok Post reports that a handful of major sites appeared to either have crashed or were possibly taken offline intentionally by the government, although there are no confirmations of this either way. Affected websites included the prime minister’s, Defence Ministry and Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.

So far, over 100,000 signatures have been collected by change.org, in an effort to protest the single gateway plan.

UPDATE   (October 2)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has stated that the single gateway initiative is actually just an idea under consideration and there are no immediate plans for implementation.

“I just told them [government agencies] to find ways to ensure cybersecurity. The internet today is dangerous. There are many attacks and hackers. So don’t talk about human rights.”

The prime minister’s statements come in contrast to the direct orders he gave earlier in September to begin setting up the single Internet gateway. Find more details here.

UPDATE   (October 4)
The “Citizens against Single Gateway” group has now issued an ultimatum for the government to scrap all studies/plans for the single gateway initiative. If the government doesn’t abide by October 14th, the group will use “severe measures” to fight back, regardless of any fallout from such actions.

The Nation reports, “The group said in the statement that its measures were aimed at sending a strong and clear message to the government that the administration would fail to control the people’s communications effectively.”