IT Experts, Netizens Question Thailand’s ‘Single Gateway’ Plan

Pimuk Rakkanam

2015-10-07
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151007-TH-panel-1000 A panel of Thai IT experts discusses the single internet gateway concept at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok, Oct. 7, 2015.
BenarNews

Thai information technology (IT) experts and netizens on Wednesday questioned Thailand’s plan to monitor and censor internet content through a so-called “single gateway” as impractical and intrusive.

At least two panelists who took part in a discussion at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok raised concerns about how a single gateway could impinge on the privacy and freedoms of Thai internet users.

“How can companies know that when they send emails, they are not tapped by the government? That is what people worry about,” said Prasong Ruangsirikulchai, senior director of NTT Communications Co. and executive director of the Telecommunications Association of Thailand.

Earlier this month, according to AFP, a Thai programmer spotted and circulated on social media a cabinet statement ordering 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."

If carried out, this would mean consolidating the multiple points at which Thai networks connect to the worldwide web, AFP said.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said the government had made no decision about the concept but was considering the idea for security reasons and to shield children from inappropriate content.

“Stop talking about it. I didn’t give a go ahead yet, so don’t ask me to stop it; it didn’t come to pass yet. If we can do, we will, but if we can’t we won’t,” local media quoted him as saying.

He also reassured the public that “if it is unlawful and violates human rights,” the government wouldn’t implement the plan.

A host of potential problems

Since the junta came to power in May 2014, Thai authorities have banned public gatherings of more than five people, summoned journalists for “attitude adjustment” and increased the number of arrests under the country’s lese-majeste law that bars defaming its royals.

Yingcheep Achanot, a panelist and project manager of the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), a Thai online freedom advocacy group, told the audience he had grave concerns about potential civil liberty abuses under a single-gateway system.

“We’ve seen many lese-majeste cases. We’ve seen thousands of URLs blocked. But I’ve seen at least four cases of lese-majeste where police made arrests without clear evidence because website administrators, including Facebook and YouTube, didn’t cooperate with the Thai government to make an arrest on lese-majeste,” Yingcheep said.

Prinya Hom-anek, who advises the ministries of Justice, Defense, and Information and Communications Technology (MICT) on cybersecurity, said the gateway concept was impractical.

“I don’t support that. There are many gateways, 17 to 20, and over 100 interlinks among the gateways. It is impossible to have only one gateway to the outside world,” Prinya told the gathering.

Government declines to participate

Pansak Siriruchatapong, an official from the MICT, was slated to join Wednesday’s panel but the ministry pulled its representative out of the discussion when it found out that the single gateway was to be the main topic, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club announced Tuesday.

“The FCCT is disappointed that the government feels unable to talk about an important and controversial policy,” said the club.

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