Military mulls ‘Great Firewall’ for Thailand

BANGKOK: Thailand’s junta is facing growing opposition over plans to introduce a single Internet gateway for the country in a bid to increase the government’s ability to monitor and block online content.

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition against the proposal, which has been dubbed the “Great Firewall of Thailand” – a play on China’s draconian Internet censorship programme – by commentators, analysts and netizens.

News of the proposal first emerged last week when a Cabinet order was unearthed by a Thai programmer and spread on social media.

By yesterday afternoon, over 72,000 people had signed a petition on calling on the government to abandon the proposal.

The Cabinet statement, published quietly on a government news website, ordered the Ministry of Infor­mation, Communications and Tech­nology to “set up a single gateway in order to use it as a tool to control inappropriate websites and information flows from other countries via the Internet”.

A spokesman for the ministry yesterday confirmed that they were working on the plans and that it aimed to update the public on the proposals within a week.

Internet gateways are the points on a network where a country connects to the worldwide web.

Initially Thailand’s internet flowed through a single gateway that was owned by the government. But the sector was deregulated in 2006, allowing dozens of companies to open their own access points resulting in dramatically increased internet speeds and Thailand emerging as a regional IT hub.

Akamai, which ranks countries on their connectivity levels, says the kingdom’s average internet speed this year is 7.5 mbps, on a par with nations like Australia, New Zealand and France.

Thailand’s junta, which seized power in a coup last year, has vowed to expand the country’s appeal as a regional internet hub unveiling a plan it has dubbed the “The Digital Economy”.

But the generals have also ramped up censorship, blocking scores of sites and pursuing online critics with criminal charges and so-called “attitude adjustment” sessions.

Prosecutions under the notoriously strict lese majeste legislation have also sky-rocketed, with the vast majority of cases brought over comments made online, including a record-breaking 30-year sentence for one man over the content of six Facebook posts. — AFP

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