censorship

Despite denials, Thailand's online surveillance plans are alive and well

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 22, 2015 "We will not talk about this any more. If we say we won't do it, we won't do it," said Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak at an economic forum in Bangkok last week. His decisive words were in response to the ongoing controversy over the Thai military government’s plans to introduce an online single gateway.

Last month, Thai internet users discovered a cabinet resolution surveying the implementation of a single online gateway ”to be used as a device to control inappropriate websites and flow of news and information from overseas through the internet system.” Subsequent resolutions ordered the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) and related agencies to speed up their preliminary work.

If realized, Thailand’s internet traffic would be bottlenecked through a single gateway, making it possible for officials to filter and block undesirable content. This is in line with the military junta’s ongoing efforts to monitor and censor dissenting voices, both in real life and online, ever since it launched a military coup in May 2014.

Amidst widespread criticism and a coordinated mass-click-and-refresh bombardment that briefly knocked several government websites offline, Thai officials were scrambling to calm public opinion, only then to contradict themselves justifying why the junta wants to have a single gateway in the first place. The explanations varied from economic reasons, cybersecurity concerns and ultimately ending at Thai junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha being initially ”worried” about the ”youth addiction to online games and access to inappropriate media”.

A week later, the government was hoping that the debate had died down. However, despite repeated statements insisting that it won’t pursue the single gateway plan anymore, not everyone is convinced by their declaration. And it seems there is more trouble coming the junta’s way:

Online activists have announced they will launch attacks against the government beginning Thursday after the prime minister said the project to route all internet traffic through a single point of control is still alive.

The coalition of anonymous internet users known as Citizens Against Single Gateway last night warned private sector operations with IT systems linked to government servers to transfer them to safe places before the assault on government systems begins at 10am on Thursday.

Those behind a crippling attack earlier this month, the Thailand F5 Cyber Army, issued the announcement yesterday after Prime Minister and junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha said agencies are still studying the project (…).

First Chapter of ‘Cyber War’ to Begin Thursday”, Khaosod English, October 21, 2015

The little detail that the government is "still studying" the single gateway plan is enough reason for opponents to distrust the Thai military government. But there are several more signs that justifies the continuous skepticism by many online users.

CAT TELECOM has announced that it will proceed with the plan to build a national Internet gateway, which it claims would help make Thailand a digital hub in Asean.

The aim of the project is not to control the flow of information into the country over the Internet as some fear, said CAT acting chief executive officer Colonel Sanpachai Huvanandana. He said a working committee for the project would be set up. Whether that committee is under the Information and Communications Technology Ministry or under the Digital Economy Committee is up to the ICT minister.

The national Internet gateway is one of two priorities for making Thailand a digital hub for the region by expanding capacity and reducing costs. The other is to have large content providers such as Facebook, Google and YouTube establish servers in Thailand.

Net gateway for digital hub”, The Nation, October 21, 2015

The other part of the plan to have internet tech giants like Google and Facebook setting up shop in Thailand (the latter already did) seems ambitious to say the least, given a potentially significant infrastructural disadvantage and previous persistent, but unsuccessful attempts by the military government seeking cooperation of these companies to censor posts deemed insulting to the monarchy and also identify their authors.

At the same time it is being reported that General Thaweep Netrniyom, the secretary-general of the Office of the National Security Council (NSC), could be appointed the head of the aforementioned CAT Telecom. It would be the first time that somebody from the NSC would take up that position at the state-owned telecommunication company and unsurprisingly his focus is expected be on cyber security - just as CAT’s current CEO (a Colonel nonetheless) announced they are still not giving up on the single online gateway.

However, as mentioned before, that is not the only measure by the military junta to control the flow of online information in Thailand. It already has blocked more than 200 websites deemed a threat to national security (source), ordered internet providers to censor on sight, reportedly also procured software to intercept encrypted SSL-connections and additional hacking and surveillance software, it is also in process of passing its so-called cyber laws, a set of bills aimed officially at “preparing Thailand for the digital economy”. But it also includes passages that enables widespread online surveillanceprosecution against intermediaries (e.g. website owners) and more legal uncertaintybenefitting the state more than Thai online users.

Most recently, Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan announced on Tuesday the creation of a new ”Army Cyber Center” specifically to ”protect” the Thai monarchy and to ”keep track of information on media and social media and to sort them out systematically,” essentially underlining their priorities. In August this year, two people were sentenced to a record 28 and 30 years in prison respectively for allegedly posting Facebook messages deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Thai military courts hand down record prison sentences for insulting monarchy

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 7, 2015 Thailand's military courts have issued record prison sentences - 30 years and 28 years - against suspects for allegedly defaming the country's monarchy on Facebook. Two separate verdicts have found the accused guilty of posting content on Facebook that is deemed a violation of the country's infamously draconian lèse majesté law, also known as Article 112 of the Criminal Code, that states “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”

The first sentence was delivered Friday morning in the Thai capital Bangkok:

On Friday morning, 7 August 2015, the Military Court of Bangkok sentenced Pongsak S., a suspect of offences under Article 112 or the lese majeste law and Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act (importing of illegal content into a computer system), to 60 years imprisonment.

The court gave 10 years prison term to each of the six lese majeste counts he was charged with. Since the suspect pleaded guilty as charged, the court, however, halved the sentence to 30 years in jail.

Pongsak used Facebook under the name “Sam Parr” to distribute messages and images defaming the monarchy, which he copied from other sources. At the press conference in January 2015, he pleaded guilty to all charges and said he did so because he was instigated by some Facebook friends. He also said that he went to anti-establishment red-shirt demonstrations.

He told Prachatai that he was tricked into meeting a decoy who had been talking to him via facebook under name ‘Numbannok Rak Seri’ (a free country boy) in the northern province of Tak and was arrested on 30 December 2014 at the bus transit in Phitsanulok Province.

“It turned out when I met the guy at the military base later that he was an officer out of uniform,” said Phongsak.

"Military court sets new record on lese majeste sentence; man gets 30 years behind bars", Prachatai English, August 7, 2015

Hours later on the same day, another military court in the northern city of Chiang Mai sentenced a woman to prison:

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the military court of the northern province of Chiang Mai on Friday afternoon, 7 August 2015, sentenced Sasiwimol (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), a 29-year-old employee of a hotel in the province, to 56 years in jail for allegedly posting six lese majeste messages under the Facebook identity ‘Rungnapha Kampichai’.

The military court gave 8 years jail term to each of the 7 lese majeste counts of the suspect. However, since the defendant pleaded guilty as charged, the court halved the jail term to 28 years.

At the deposition hearing in June 2015, the defendant denied all allegations. However, during the plaintiff’s examination hearing today, 7 August 2015, she retracted her pretrial statements and pleaded guilty.

Prior to the ruling, Sasiwimol submitted a letter to the court, requesting the judges to reduce the jail sentence because she has never committed any crime and is a mother of two daughters aged seven and five. The military court judges dismissed the request and reasoned that the jail sentence is already light since case is severe because it is related to the revered Thai monarchy and gravely affected public sentiment of Thai people.

"Northern military court sends mother of two to 28 years in prison under lese majeste", Prachatai English, August 7, 2015

Both cases have set an unprecedented record for long prison sentences, since the court issued the punishment per offense that was deemed not only a violation of the lèse majesté law, but also to the Computer Crimes Act. In other words, the accused were punished twice for allegedly violating two vaguely worded laws and also accumulated a long prison term because the courts counted each Facebook post as separate offense. Both defendants have pleaded guilty not only to halve their sentences (the fact that they were still unprecedentedly long is telling) but also to keep the possibility of a royal pardon open.

Lèse majesté-related complaints have sky-rocketed in the past decade (regardless of who was in power) thanks to self-proclaimed ultra-nationalist vigilantes as more verdicts have shown increasingly looser interpretations of the law, rendering a reasonable debate or even a possible amendment of the law impossible. To make matters worse, ever since Thailand's military - which sees itself as the defender of the Thai monarchy - took power in the coup of May 22, 2014, it has transferred jurisdiction of lèse majesté cases to military courts. Unsurprisingly, the number of cases have piled up under the  junta.

The Thai military government is fighting against lèse majesté suspects at multiple fronts: evidently, social media is under increased surveillance and Facebook itself reported a sharp increase of blocked content in the second half of 2014, while it also states that Thai authorities have requested information of certain Facebook users three times.

Furthermore, the junta is hunting a number activists charged with lèse majesté that have fled abroad, often resulting in diplomatic spats, and other repeated requests to countries that have granted asylum to the prosecuted suspects.

No laughing matter: Thai junta leader's renewed threat to media

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 26, 2015 Thai junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha this week warned that he has power to 'execute' critical reporters. Maybe this time he wasn't joking, writes Saksith Saiyasombut

THE allegations against the four men are severe: they are accused of being in connection to an alleged ”terrorism network” plotting to launch bomb attacks in Bangkok. A blast on March 7 at the Criminal Court (where no one was injured) is being pinned on them. They were held in military barracks for almost a week without charges, in accordance with martial law that is still in force since the military coup almost a year ago.

During the detention these four men were also allegedly tortured into making false confessions, according to human rights lawyers. One suspect said he was punched, kicked and even electrocuted ”30-40 times” by soldiers during interrogations.

Unsurprisingly, the Thai military disputes these allegations as a ”distortion of facts” and army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr has threatened legal action after the accusations.

That is in essence an example of how Thailand’s military junta deals with accusations and criticism leveled against them: denial and rejection - so far, so common. But that also comes with a heavy dose of self-righteous zeal to claim the ultimate sovereignty over what they constitute as the truth.

And no one defends this "truth" more vigorously than Gen. Udomdej’s army chief predecessor: General Prayuth Chan-ocha, current military junta leader and also prime minister.

Even the most casual Thai political observer is aware of Gen. Prayuth’s frequent contentious exchanges, especially with the press, in which he is at best sardonic and at worst goes on a tirades mostly ending with threats - and coming from a military man in charge of a government with wide-reaching powers, and with no one seemingly stopping him, this makes it very problematic, to say the least.

Case in point, from earlier this week:

"Our country has seen so much trouble because we have had too much democracy, unlike other countries where the government has more power to restrict freedoms," Gen. Prayuth (…) told investors and businessmen at a conference in Bangkok today. "Even the media can’t criticize [those leaders], like they do here. I insist that today, we are 99 percent democratic, because I didn't overthrow democracy at all."

Gen. Prayuth continued, "I can’t even stop people from opposing me at this moment. If I genuinely had complete power, I would have imprisoned [critics] or handed them to a firing squad. It would be over, I wouldn't have to wake up at night like this. Today there are some people who love me, but there are also many people who hate me. But please know that I am not doing this for myself. I am here to work for the country."

Junta Leader Blames Thai Crisis on 'Too Much Democracy’”, Khaosod English, March 23, 2015

It gets even worse later this week, when Gen. Prayuth had yet another episode in which he scolded reporters for a particularly (from his perspective) annoying question that quickly escalated into a rant accusing everyone not thankful enough for the "freedoms" he permits to criticize him and the junta. But then it deteriorated even more after reporters asked what would happened to media outlets stepping out of line, to which he said this:

"We'll probably just execute them," said Prayuth, without a trace of a smile, when asked by reporters how the government would deal with those that do not adhere to the official line.

"You don't have to support the government, but you should report the truth," the former army chief said, telling reporters to write in a way that bolsters national reconciliation in the kingdom.

Thai PM Prayuth warns media, says has power to execute reporters”, Reuters, March 25, 2015

He went on to target specific outlets like Matichon by literally pointing at copies of their newspapers and lambasting their coverage (which you can read here in a transcript of the whole tirade by Khaosod English that is - for a lack of a better word - just amazingly mind-boggling).

If there’s still any doubt about what kind of man and what kind of mentality we are dealing with here, then there’s your answer! This is a man ruling a regime under which dissent is outlawed and the media is under constant surveillance.

In an ironically tone-deaf incident, earlier on the same day, Gen. Prayuth he blasted Channel 3 journalist Thapanee Ietsrichai for her investigative report into the inhumane slave-like conditions on Thai fishing boats (coinciding with a similar investigation by the Associated Press following similar reports by The Guardian and Global Post in recent years) for the damaging the country’s reputation and summoned to explain herself to the authorities.

As amusing (and admittedly cathartic) as it is to laugh and ridicule the general’s verbal outbursts and this junta’s ineptitude to deal with criticism (as we have extensively chronicled it), it’s no laughing matter and perhaps we should stop treating it as such.

Maybe we should stop portraying Prayuth’s outbursts as amusing one-note anecdotes about somebody’s public anger issues, but rather as the dangerously misguided delusions of somebody who knows no other way to exert power than by abusive force - and more worryingly, is in a situation and position powerful enough to actually do it.

Gen. Prayuth’s mere mention of considering the use of execution against critical journalists - twice, no less! - crosses yet another line after so many other lines have been already crossed. Maybe it is time for others to take Thailand’s plight under the military junta more seriously.

ThaiMiniCult's newest puritan crusade targets underboob selfies

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 19, 2015 The "appropriate" display of female breasts, according to an actual banner on the Thai Ministry of Culture in 2010.

Thailand's overzealous cultural watchdogs made international headlines again this week, and as usual for entirely the wrong reasons. This time, they have targeted yet another apparent online phenomenon:

Thailand's military government warned women on Monday against posting 'selfie' photos of the lower half of their breasts - a social media trend that has gone viral - saying their actions could violate the country's computer crime laws.

Thailand's 2007 Computer Crimes Act bans any material that causes "damage to the country's security or causes public panic" or "any obscene computer data which is accessible to the public".

The culture ministry said offenders faced up to five years in jail, but did not say how they would identify the culprits.

"When people take these 'underboob selfies' no one can see their faces," ministry spokesman Anandha Chouchoti told Reuters. "So it's like, we don't know who these belong to, and it encourages others to do the same.

"We can only warn people to not take it up. They are inappropriate actions."

"Thais warned against taking 'underboss selfies'", Reuters, March 16, 2015

Yes, (regular readers know what's coming next) the self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything "Thainess" we usually call ThaiMiniCult are once again setting out on their puritan crusade again to safeguard sanctimonious sanctity of what's appropriate and what's not.

And even though there's no concrete evidence that the "underboob" selfies have gotten ahold in the Thai online community, as Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn admitted to Thai Rath, the director of the ThaiMiniCult's Culture Surveillance Center nevertheless insisted almost step-motherly that, "Thai culture [as a whole] doesn't approve public display of scantily clothed [people] anyways."

Predictably, this (non-)incident was picked up by the international media rather quickly (and due to the fact that an international news agency like Reuters actually wrote about it), further making a mockery of the ruling authoritarian military junta, which has already a tough time to promote itself and its "values" - let alone to foreigners. However, this open vigor by the ThaiMiniCult is not a new occurrence and popped up even before the current military government.

As previously with Buddhist tattoos on foreign skins, mediocre foreign TV-sketches, and whatever that short-lived 'planking'-meme was, Thai authorities - and especially their colleagues at the Ministry of Culture - always see the need to combat these with a threat to use the law to their fullest possible punishment. It doesn't make it any better when the law they are citing to clamp down possible offenders with - when these acts of perceived cultural indecencies are made online (and, much to the apparent annoyance of the Thai authorities, anonymously) - is the Computer Crimes Act, which we've lambasted in its current and very likely future form.

Also, long-time Siam Voices readers will have noticed by now, most episodes of ThaiMiniCult's outrage involve the public display of female breasts one way or the other. The most infamous case goes back as far as 2011 when the then-Culture Minister called for a public witch hunt after an online video emerged showing women dancing topless in the streets during the Songkran new year holidays - only then to find out the women were underaged.

Back then, author and Siam Voices contributor "Kaewmala" said in an interview with this author that Thai society "needs to get real" with sexuality and stop hiding behind a "taboo only when it’s inconvenient or causes embarrassment." In a later article on this blog, she said that the Thai cultural heralds have pathological "mammophobia". The underlying theme of sexual hypocrisy in Thailand was also picked up by Siam Voices contributor Thitipol Panyalimpanun, who recently wrote that "Thailand put itself into this struggle by positioning itself as noble society."

It is this holier-than-thou-attitude by the self-proclaimed Thai cultural heralds that leaves easily mockable, mostly because of their overzealousness in protecting whatever their one solid vision of "Thainess" entails, but also their argumentative inconsistency. In an online post that mercilessly mocks this brouhaha, while the ThaiMiniCult has an apparent problem with "underboob" selfies, it hasn't gawked at Thai magazine and newspaper covers featuring otherwise barely covered female breasts - and never mind that infamous banner (see above) the ThaiMiniCult itself had on their website in 2011...

Thailand’s new cyber laws – Part 5: Admin error

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 26, 2015

In the last part of our Siam Voices series examining the new cyber laws, we chronicle the criticism against and the defense for the controversial bills - and what’s behind the military junta’s motivation to push these into law.

In the past two weeks we have analyzed the cyber law bills for its potential impact on policies, censorship and also business. More often than not we found that the flaws outweigh the benefits and, if signed into law without large-scale amendments will have very serious implications of the civil liberties, free speech, personal privacy and even e-commerce of every Thai internet user - except for those in charge of the law.

So it is no wonder why there has been a significant amount of criticism against the cyber bills. Here’s just a small selection:

"Proposed cyber-security legislation in Thailand represents a clear and present danger to media freedoms," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "If Prime Minister Prayuth is sincere about returning the country to democracy, he should see that Parliament scraps this bill, which is reminiscent of a police state, and instead enact laws that uphold online freedoms."

Cyber security bill threatens media freedom in Thailand”,  Committee to Protect Journalists, January 20, 2015

"The consumers will feel that they are being watched when they go online,” said Arthit Suriyawongkul, an expert on cyber and computer law from the Thai Netizen Network. (…)

“They'll feel unsure about sharing their private information fearing that officials could abuse their privacy,” Mr Arthit said. “If consumers are not confident then online businesses will suffer."

"Fears over Thailand's online freedom, as junta drives towards digital economy”, Channel NewsAsia, January 29, 2015

Six civil organizations [Thai Netizen NetworkFTA WatchFoundation for Community Education Media (FCEM)Green World FoundationPeople’s Media Development Institute, and Thailand Association for the Blind (TAB)] denounced the eight Digital Economy bills recently approved by the junta, saying they are national security bills in disguise and that the bill will pave the way for a state monopoly of the telecommunication business.

"Thai junta’s Digital Economy bills are national security bills in disguise: rights groups”, Prachatai English, January 14, 2015

Also, almost 22,000 people have signed an online-petition against the bills, calling for them to be stopped.

At the moment the right cyber bills are in the military junta’s all-appointed ersatz-parliament, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) - dominated by active and former military officers - and are awaiting deliberation. It is not expected that the rubber-stamping body will be making any fundamental changes to the drafts.

Nevertheless, the military government’s response to the criticism is - like with any other criticism out there - aggravated and irritated. Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha responded in his usual style:

“We will develop software for goods and services. If there is private [online] content, no one would mess with it. But if [some people] commit crimes [such as lèse majesté], we have to investigate the matter. The accusation that the government is not taking care of Article 112 [of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté law] is because those lèse majesté websites operate from overseas.

"Junta leader admits controversial digital economy bills target lèse majesté”, Prachatai English, January 22, 2015

And when pressed by another reporter…

"Today, have I ever restricted anyone's rights? Have I ever done that?" asked Gen. Prayuth, who imposed martial law after leading a military coup on 22 May 2014, and has banned any political protests or public criticism of his regime.

The reporter pressed Gen. Prayuth to justify the sweeping nature of the bill, prompting Gen. Prayuth to lose his temper and shout, "I don't have to answer why! I will pass it. You have a problem with that? Otherwise, why the hell am I the Prime Minister? Why am I the Prime Minister?"

Gen. Prayuth then walked away from the reporters and said angrily, "I'm in a very bad mood."

"Thai Junta Leader Deflects Concern Over Mass Surveillance Bill”, Khaosod English, January 21, 2015

This incident at a small activist symposium shows how much the military government is trying to claim its narrative over the bills:

Also present at the Bangkok symposium was an Army Lieutenant who arrived uninvited with three other soldiers in an armoured Humvee and "asked" to be allowed to defend the draft bills. (…)

Army Lieutenant Kittiphob Tiensiriwong (…) urged the 35-strong crowd to accept the bills, saying that the NLA had good intentions but acknowledging that the bills must have more positive than negative aspects.

When asked to explain, Kittiphob, who did not remove his footwear like the other participants, said there were times when speedy access to the Internet was needed.

He said the bills aimed "to control those who think unlike others - those who have their own mind and are not considering the thinking of the collective."

"Calls to hold cyber bills until democracy is restored”, The Nation, February 2, 2015

While this should come as no surprise to anyone, that right there is actual main motivation of the military junta for the cyber law bills and for the way it was written! Ever since the military coup in last May, one of the key elements of its tight grip is the massive monitoring of the media, including online, to curtail any signs of criticism and dissent.

Even without the cyber laws and thanks to the still ongoing martial law, the military junta has already taken steps for wide-spread online surveillance as we have previously reported, as well as ordering Thai internet service providers to preemptively block websites. Since then, there have been further developments that are in line with the authorities' efforts to scrutinize online traffic: the development of software to intercept secured SSL-connections, mandatory sim-card registrations (in a country that predominantly uses their phones with pre-paid subscriptions) as well as for free wifi and the reported creation of a "cyber warfare" unit by the Thai military.

The desire by Thai authorities to control the flow of information online is not new and was evident in past governments (see hereherehere and here), but under the authoritarian rule of the military junta, it can operate with no checks and balances - and thus also legalize its unprecedented powers to monitor, spy, filter, censor and collect anything online.

The main purpose of an army is to protect the country from external threats, but history has shown that the Thai army has mainly acted against the Thai people. Now with the new online surveillance measures and the cyber law bills, the Thai military and the junta is expanding its fields of operations (or rather battlespace) to the cyberspace - and thus not against an external force, but again against every Thai internet user.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security - Part 4: Bad for business, too! - Part 5: Admin error

Thai court jails theater activists for lese majeste

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 25, 2015 Thailand's courts are continuing to jail people under the lèse majesté law, as two young students have been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for allegedly insulting the monarchy in a theater play. The conviction shows yet again the draconian law is still thriving and even more so under the current military junta.

Dozens of students outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok began to sing when Patiwat "Bank" Saraiyaem (23 years old) and Porntip "Golf" Mankong (26) were taken out of the building (see video below) in shackles and back into their prisons after the judges handed down their sentences: five years in prison, reduced to two and a half. Both students were found guilty of allegedly violating the lèse majesté law by seemingly insulting the monarchy with a theater production.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TH0X9mPMjW0?rel=0]

The draconian lèse majesté law, Article 112 of the Criminal Code, states that it is a criminal offense to “defame, insult or threaten” the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent. If convicted, the accused can face up to 15 years in prison. The law also prohibits media and anyone else from citing or quoting the details of the offense, as this also constitutes a violation of the law itself.

Use (or rather abuse) of the law has been constantly on the rise for most of the past decade, but has seen a sharp increase since the military coup last May. One of the first orders by the military junta was to transfer jurisdiction of such cases to a military court, as martial law remains since the coup.

Patiwat and Porntip - respectively, a student until his suspension at Khon Kaen University because of the trial, and a recent graduate - were part of the "Prakai Fai" (literally Sparking Fire) activist theater group and staged the play "The Wolf's Bride" ("เจ้าสาวหมาป่า" in Thai) at Bangkok's Thammasat University in 2013, which was the scene of the student-led pro-democracy rallies and its bloody military crackdown in 1973 and 1976.

The play itself is set in a fictional kingdom about a fictional king and his fictional advisor. Nevertheless, its contents (which we cannot elaborate further upon for the aforementioned reasons), were still deemed enough to defame the actual Thai monarchy. Patiwat (who acted in the play) and Porntip (who primarily co-ordinated the production) were arrested last August, while many others of the group have fled Thailand fearing they would be targeted as well.

The fact that a work of fiction is at the center of the offense shows not only the problematic flexible interpretation of the law by the authorities of what constitutes lèse majesté and what doesn't, it also bears some similarities of the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk. The veteran labor activist was sentenced to 11 years for merely editing political essays - that were written by somebody else - which were at best vague allusions to the royal family. He has been incarcerated (including his detention before the trial) since April 2011 and has been denied bail 16 times so far.

The two accused students have been denied bail six times as well, as have most other lèse majesté suspects. Both defendants have previously pleaded guilty, which doesn't necessarily mean they acknowledge the crime, as this is a standard procedure to reduce the sentence. Also, like many other sentenced lèse majesté prisoners, it seems unlikely that the two will be appealing the verdict, which would leave a royal pardon the only legal avenue to shorten the prison term.

The judges reasoned their verdict and sentencing as following:

"Although the defendants have never committed previous crimes, their action - performing the play in an auditorium at Thammasat University - was an act of defamation and insult in front of numerous people," said a judge at Ratchada Criminal Court in Bangkok. "Moreover, it was disseminated on many websites, causing damage to the monarchy, which is revered by all Thais. Such action is a grave crime that warrants no suspension of the punishment."

"Theater Activists Jailed Over Satirical Play About Monarchy", Khaosod English, February 23, 2015

The judge's assumption that the offenses in that theater play were insulting to the monarchy despite being "revered by all Thais", underlines "the contradictory task of trying to argue how inflammatory the slanderous remarks are (...) while at the same time maintaining that the words have no such effect on them," as academic and lèse majesté expert David Streckfuss wrote once (read here).

In fact, this contradiction has reached new (and absurd, if it wasn't so serious) lows under the current military government, which is hunting for lèse majesté suspects and dissidents alike with vigorous zeal - especially an estimated 40 suspects that have fled abroad.

A change for the better in Thailand is not in sight with the authoritarian military junta at the helm. But dissent is still alive, which is currently mostly upheld by student activists and public displays of resistance still do occur (as seen recently last Valentine's Day), only to be immediately shut down by the skittish authorities.

Porntip's and Patiwat's family members broke down in tears after the verdict was read out, as the dozens of supporters were waiting downstairs at the exit of the Criminal Court in Bangkok and started singing "The Faith Of Starlight" ("แสงดาวแห่งศรัทธา" in Thai), a song written by Thai leftist intellectual Chit Phumisak and popularized as a protest anthem by the pro-democracy student activists in the 1970s, which ended with the words:

ขอเยาะเย้ย ทุกข์ยากขวากหนามลำเค็ญ / คนยังคง ยืนเด่นโดยท้าทาย / แม้นผืนฟ้า มืดดับเดือนลับมลาย / ดาวยังพราย ศรัทธาเย้ยฟ้าดิน / ดาวยังพราย อยู่จนฟ้ารุ่งราง

May I mock the miserable thorns of poverty / the people are still standing defiantly / and even the skies turn dark and the moon vanishes forever / the stars are still shining, the faith of the starlight / the stars are still shining, until heaven is obscured

As the choir kept chanting, the pair were put in a transport van. Patiwat "Bank" Saraiyaem and Porntip "Golf" Mankong - the two thespians, now prisoners - calmly and defiantly flashed the three-finger-salute from "The Hunger Games" movies (and declared illegal by the military junta) as the van darted out of the garage to drive them to their prisons.

Thailand’s new cyber laws – Part 4: Bad for business, too!

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 25, 2015

In the fourth part of our series examining Thailand's new and controversial cyber laws, we look at the impact it can have on business - and it doesn't necessarily look very profitable.

In the last couple of instalments of this series, we have highlighted the pitfalls, flaws and loopholes of some of the new proposed cyber laws of the Thai military government. Obviously, since this blog mainly focusses on politics and media freedom, we have so far examined the bills with regards to cyber security, surveillance and its implications on censorship, civil liberties and privacy.

However, for some people and entities these aspects are simply not on the top of their priority list - and we’re not talking about the junta this time! No, this time we mean the economic sector. And it is often said from that direction that an effective, stable political situation is preferable - cynics would argue that democratic values are not economic factors.

The main selling point by the current military junta of the new cyber laws is to lay out the legal groundwork to improve the conditions for Thailand’s ”digital economy” and thus position the country more competitively, especially with the ASEAN Economic Community lurking just around the corner. Another objective is to integrate governance and state business better in to the ”digital economy” as well.

And there are some very good reasons to focus on that: With an internet penetration of 35 per cent (roughly 28.3m people) and an even higher percentage of mobile phone users (125 per cent or 84m people, in fact more than the actual Thai population!), there are a lot of opportunities to be made digitally (source and more stats here).

But when you take a closer look at the eight different cyber law bills, there are many passages that also potentially can spell bad business as well. As usual, the devil is in the details.

Let's start off with the Personal Data Protection bill (full translation available here). As the name of the bill implies, it is initially set up to (supposedly) protect personal data of every Thai online user and for that reason a committee overseeing that would also include representatives of three consumer protection NGOs on board. According to Article 7 of the new bill however, they are now gone and have been replaced by the Secretary of the National Security Council instead.

And it doesn't get any better as we encounter yet another example of a typical problem when it comes to Thai legalese:

The draft bill also imposes significant legal burdens on foreign tech companies as responsibility falls solely on the data controller. Such companies would also run a greater risk of being subject to legal action, said Dhiraphol Suwanprateep, a partner at Baker & McKenzie. (...)

He said the bill posed a challenge for the government's digital economy policy, as there is no clear distinction between "personal data processor" and "personal data controller"The draft only identifies a data controller as the person with the authority to control and manage his or her personal information.

"Data processor" typically refers to a third party that processes personal data on behalf of a data controller, Mr Dhiraphol said. In the absence of such identification in the bill, data processors such as internet service providers, web hosting providers, cloud service providers and content hosting platforms could be broadly interpreted as a data controller. (...)

"If there is no separate definition between data controllers and data processors, it will be difficult to enforce the law, as most technology businesses are dwelling on cloud-based services which are physically located outside the country," Mr Dhiraphol said.

"This will not attract foreign investors into Thailand, as stringent legislation would rather hamper businesses' innovative technology instead of promoting Thailand as a digital economy hub for the Asean Economic Community."

"Legal expert shreds data security bill", Bangkok Post, January 26, 2015

Another passage at Article 25 would affect a lot of different sectors as well:

Section 25: Any collection of personal data pertaining to ethnicity, race, political opinions, doctrinal, religious or philosophical beliefs, sexual behaviour, criminal records, health records, or of any data which may upset another person’s or the people’s feelings as prescribed by the Committee, without the consent of the Data Owner or the person(s) concerned, is prohibited, (...)

Following the words of the law, it would make it very difficult to use somebody's yet-to-be-defined "personal information" for any kind of work without their permission. For example, journalists wouldn't be able to use these sources for any critical investigation or marketing campaigns and wouldn't be able to implement social media posts (unless they write some crafty terms of services that nobody reads anyways).

Another crucial point of contention for many critics is the upcoming allocation of new frequency spectrum that would bring 4G mobile connection to Thailand (and hopefully soon and not as drawn-out as the farcical 3G auction was). However...

It also empowers the [Digital Economy Commission chaired by the Prime Minister] to order any private telecommunications operator to act or refraining from acting in any way and also compels companies to provide information on request as well as hand over executives for questioning.

The portfolio of digital economy laws also has a new frequency act that gives the final say in spectrum allocation to the Digital Economy Commission and emancipates the telecommunications regulator, leaving it in charge only of commercial spectrum and imposing strict budget controls on the former autonomous agency. (...)

But while on the one hand [the government] are signalling compromise with the aforementioned committee, the junta are also threatening that 4G will be delayed unless the laws are passed quickly, and of course everyone loves more bandwidth.

"Thai spying law controversy rages on", Telecomasia.net, February 6, 2015

And generally one of the biggest problems is that the cyber law bills are creating a bureaucratic monster:

Paiboon Amornpinyokait, an expert on cyber and computer law, said (...) they gave too much power to the new Ministry of Digital Economy and Society by allowing it to oversee too many areas.

They include areas currently under the jurisdiction of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) Bill, the Cyber Security Bill, the New Computer Crime Bill, the Personal Data Protection Bill, the Digital Economy Promotion Bill, and the Digital Economy Development Fund Bill.

Paiboon said the bills would result in too much centralised power and will give too much authority to officials or authorities, which could easily lead to abuse of power.

"Digital economy bills 'need to be amended'", The Nation, January 19, 2015

These passages and many other legislative pitfalls that we haven't covered yet show that this is not only a matter of human rights, free speech and personal privacy, but it also could have potentially serious implications for the economy and scare away potential foreign investors.

Just as the military junta tries to fix the economy and could be doing more harm than good, these batch of cyber bills could have the same effect as well if they're not being thoroughly amended or rejected by the junta's ersatz-parliament. As we explain in the next and last past of our series, there is definitely not a lack of criticism from all sides but a severe lack of justification from Thailand's military junta.

Translated sections of draft bills by Thai Netizen Network. You can read complete translations here.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security - Part 4: Bad for business, too! - Part 5: Admin error

Thailand's new cyber laws - Part 3: Far-reaching cyber snooping

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 20, 2015 In this part in our series examining the Thai military government’s new cyber laws, we look at the most controversial bill among the eight drafts: The Cyber Security Bill.

Any government nowadays has to adapt its laws and at the same to keep it up to date with technological advancement - which is a seemingly herculean task given their vastly contrasting respective pace. One issue many lawmakers are focusing on is cyber security. Given the growing reliance on internet access in our everyday lives and the increasing number cyber attacks, the legislative base to counter that are either still archaic (some by design) or in some cases simply non-existent.

Thailand is obviously not exempt and thus created the 2007 Computer Crime Act (CCA) - the problem is that the wording of the CCA is so vague that is has often been (ab)used for online censorship and the 2015 update doesn't fix these problems either (read previous part).

With the new Cyber Security Bill (full PDF and translation here), the current Thai military government is seemingly adding another legislative basis to combat cyber crime - but what it actually does is an assault on online freedom and personal privacy, starting with the creation of a new government agency:

Section 6: There shall be a committee called “The National Cybersecurity Committee” (NCSC) consisting of:

(1) Minister of Digital Economy and Society as Chairperson;

(2) Secretary of the National Security Council, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Commander of the Technological Crime Suppression Division, the Royal Thai Police as 4 ex officio members;

(3) Not more than 7 qualified members appointed by the Council of Ministers (…)

As it can be seen from the make-up of the committee, its members are almost all from the military and police - all positions that have been or can be filled with people close to the current military government, who will be on the committee for 3 years (Article 9).

Section 7: The NCSC shall have the following powers and duties:

(1) to determine the approaches and measures for responding to and tackling cyber threats in the event of undesirable or unforeseeable situation or circumstance concerning security that affects or may cause significant or serious impact, loss or damage so that the NCSC becomes the centre of operation in the event of situation or circumstance concerning security in a timely and uniform manner, unless the cyber threat is such that affects military security, which is a matter within the powers of Defence Council or the National Security Council;

Section 14: The Office of the National Cybersecurity Committee shall be set up as a State agency having a juristic person, not being a State division or a State enterprise.

Section 17: The Office shall have the following powers and duties:

(1) to respond to and tackle cyber threats in the event of undesirable or unforeseeable situation or circumstance concerning security that affects or may cause significant or serious impact, loss or damage by issuing operation measures that take into account the degree of secrecy and the access to classified information; (…)

(3) to co-operate with State agencies or private agencies for the purpose of collecting information on cyber threats, the prevention and tackling of circumstances of cyber threat, and other information concerning the maintenance of Cybersecurity, to be analysed and submitted to the NCSC for consideration; (...)

(5) to monitor and speed up the operations of the State agencies involved in maintaining Cybersecurity, and report to the NCSC; (…)

(13) to perform other acts concerning national Cybersecurity as entrusted by the NCSC or the Council of Ministers.

While Article 7 and 17 are pretty much standard fare regarding its tasks, Article 14 hints that the NCSC has wider powers and fewer bureaucratic hurdles to overcome in order to act swiftly - which also potentially means less transparency. And whatever is meant in Article 17.13 with "other acts concerning national Cybersecurity as entrusted" by the Cabinet is highly unlikely to be ever publicly disclosed - maybe unorthodox ways to 'gain information'?

As the next excerpt shows, the NCSC will have so much power it can even take over command of other state agencies in a crisis:

Section 33: Upon the occurrence of an emergency or danger as a result of cyber threat that may affect national security, the NCSC shall have the power to order all State agencies to perform any act to prevent, solve the issues or mitigate the damage that has arisen or that may arise as it sees fit and may order a State agency or any person, including a person who has suffered from the danger or may suffer from such danger or damage, to act or co-operate in an act that will result in timely control, suspension, or mitigation of such danger and damage that have arisen. (...)

Section 34: In case where it is necessary, for the purpose of maintaining Cybersecurity, which may affect financial and commercial stability or national security, the NCSC may order a State agency to act or not to act in any way and to report the outcome of the order to the NCSC as required by the Notification of the NCSC.

Another interesting tidbit is in Article 18.3:

Section 18: For the purpose of the fulfilment of the objectives under Section 17, the Office shall have the following powers and duties:

(3) to enter into an agreement and co-operate with other organisations or agencies, both in the public and the private sectors, [both based domestic and abroad] in activities concerning the fulfilment of the Office’s objectives;

One way to interpret that is that the NCSC will seek "co-operation" from private corporations, including those providing social media platforms and messaging apps. In the past Thai authorities, in their quest to criminalize even mere Facebook 'likes' linked to unwanted content or dissent, tried to contact the company behind the messaging app LINE in order to access all messages - they didn't a reply, but nevertheless later boasted that they could monitor everything.

Nevertheless, Thai authorities would be empowered to snoop thanks to the already infamous Article 35:

Section 35 For the purpose of performing their duties under this Act, the Officials who have been entrusted in writing by the Secretary shall have the following powers: (…)

(3) to gain access to information on communications, either by post, telegram, telephone, fax, computer, any tool or instrument for electronic media communication or telecommunications, for the benefit of the operation for the maintenance of Cybersecurity.

The performance under (3) shall be as specified by the Rules issued by the Council of Ministers.

Yes, even the good old telegram is not safe from long arms of the authorities! It is self-evident that with that wording the NCSC will have far-reaching powers to look into the personal data of every Thai internet user. And given the paranoia of the military junta with social media, the potential for abuse of the law in the name of national (cyber-)security is nigh on endless. It remains to be seen if the aforementioned guidelines will ever be issued by the Cabinet when this bill is signed into law.

Translated sections of draft bills by Thai Netizen Network. You can read complete translations here.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security

Thailand's new cyber laws - Part 2: Changes to the Computer Crime Act

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 17, 2015 With the passing of eight new draft bills under the banner of "Digital Economy" by the Thai junta cabinet and awaiting approval by the ersatz-parliament, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the main focus of criticism is aimed at the cyber security bill and the amendments to the 2007 Computer Crime Act (CCA).

In this part, we take a look at the most crucial changes to the Computer Crime Act.

The old Computer Crime Act was itself a problematic piece of legislation when it was passed in 2007 due to the vague wording of certain sections. Particularly there’s a high legal ambiguity in Article 12.2, which punishes anything that is "likely to damage computer data or a computer system related to the country’s security, public security and economic security or public services" with 3-15 years in prison, and Article 14, which punishes any computer-related act that causes "damage the country's security or causes a public panic" (especially if it is "related with an offense against the Kingdom's security under the Criminal Code") with a maximum of five year in prison.

That led to many cases where people were charged for political expressions made online that were deemed by the authorities as lèse majesté, which almost doubles the potential punishment of the accused (as mentioned in our introduction previously).

Now these two passages has been mashed together into into one Article, which says:

Section 14/1 - Any person committing an offence 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 must be subject to imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine of not more than sixty thousand baht [US$1,843] or both.

Section 14/2 - Any person committing an offence that involves import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom's security under the Criminal Code must be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht [US$3,070] or both.

It’s not much different than the previous versions in terms of punishment, but the problematic vague wording (e.g. what constitutes "false computer data"?) remains. What's worse is the following Article 15:

Section 15 -  Any service provider intentionally supporting or consenting to an offence under Section 14/1 or Section 14/2 within a computer system under their control must be subject to the same penalty as that imposed upon a person committing an offence under Section 14/1 and Section 14/2.

If any service provider can prove that they follow the instruction to restrain the dissemination of such computer data or destroy such data from a computer system as required by a Minister, the perpetrator is not guilty.

Under the new law, the intermediaries are subject to prosecution as well. Basically, if for example a webmaster has content that's deemed offensive on their site and doesn't remove it, then they can be charged - even if they didn't write it themselves. That’s exactly what happened to Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who was accused of not deleting online comments from her website quickly enough that were deemed lèse majesté. The main problem in this case was how long is too long for somebody not to remove something seemingly offensive. In Chiranuch's case, it seemed the prosecutors more or less expected every webmaster to anticipate it even before the offense happens and to preemptively act against it. She was convicted and given a suspended jail sentence in 2012.

One of the major changes are the amendments to Article 18:

Section 18 of the Computer Crime Act of B.E. 2550 (2007) is added the following provisions as paragraph two and paragraph three:

"For the benefit of investigation and inquiry, in case there is a reasonable cause to believe that there is the perpetration of an offence to computer system, computer data, or any computer data storage devices under any laws, the superior administrative or police official under the Criminal Procedure Code or the competent official under other laws shall perform under this Act only the necessities for the benefits of using as evidences related to the commission of an offence or searching for an offender under the competent authorities indicated in paragraph one, paragraph two and paragraph three. The aforementioned officials shall request the relevant competent official to take action provided that their power of authority is limited under this Act.”

In simple words, authorities still need a court order in order to intercept online communication and it has to be specific. However, as the watchdog organization Thai Netizen Network points out, there's no limitation on how long these interceptions can take as compared to e.g. Article 25 of the 2008 Special Investigation Act, which allows access of 90 days (but permits unlimited extensions).

Also, Article 12 in the new CCA will punish cases which involves hacking of computer systems "that is likely to damage computer data or a computer system related to the country's security, public security and economic security" with up to 15 years in prison.

And finally in this short look, Article 31 already hints at the next part we'll be examining:

Section 31. Nation Cyber Security Committee (NCSC) shall be the central agency to control, monitor and assess operational performance of the competent official under this Act.

In the next part, we will look at the controversial new Cyber Security Bill, which seemingly could allow intrusive actions by the Thai authorities against internet users and the aforementioned National Cyber Security Committee will be an integral part of it.

Translated sections of draft bills by Thai Netizen Network. You can read complete translations here.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security

Thailand’s new (and controversial) cyber laws - Part 1: Introduction

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 10, 2015 The Thai military government has greenlit a large batch of draft laws that aim to pave the way for the digitization of governance and state business. However, they also come with a slew of strengthened cyber surveillance and censorship upgrades for the authorities. 

The year was 2007. Social media was yet to be discovered by most people in Thailand as many were conversing on blogs or the still-popular web forums. The first ever iPhone was only available as an expensive import, 3G was still several years away and even broadband internet was just getting starting to become widely available.

That’s when the then-military government signed the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA) into law. Initially drawn up to provide a legal groundwork to combat online scams and hacking, the main motivation behind the rather hasty drafting of the CCA was a YouTube video mocking Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the online video platform’s refusal to delete it despite requests from the Thai government - which subsequently led to a temporary block of the whole site for Thai users.

In the following years, the CCA became known for its crude implementation of online censorship and criminalizing political criticism, especially when it deals with lèse majesté. When somebody is being convicted of having allegedly committed a crime violating both the lèse majesté law and the Computer Crimes Act (especially Art. 12.2) - in practice, posting something online that is perceived insulting to the monarchy - the accused could face up to 15 years in prison for each violation of each law.

There were two notable cases that highlight the (ab)use of both laws: Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the webmaster of the Thai alternative news website Prachatai, was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence in 2012 for simply not deleting web comments quickly enough that were deemed lèse majesté, while Amphon Tangnoppakul was less fortunate. The man commonly known as ‘Ahkong’ or ‘Uncle SMS’ was imprisoned for 20 years for allegedly sending four SMSs insulting the monarchy (despite inconclusive evidence). After four years in jail, he died in May 2012 at age 61, arguably becoming a martyr to critics of the lèse majesté law.

All attempts at amending the CCA in whatever direction so far have gone nowhere, either because it got lost in the drafting process or no government stayed long enough in office to push it through.

Now, with the military in charge, the largest legislative change to the cyber laws seems imminent and it doesn't look good.

Last week, the junta’s cabinet approved in principle eight proposed bills which were claimed to prepare Thailand for the “digital economy”. The groups said they were in fact designed to restructure and tighten control of telecommunications and the internet in Thailand.

The junta-appointed parliament earlier passed a law to change the title of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES). The MDES will be the main agency overseeing the “digital economy”.

Thai junta’s Digital Economy bills are national security bills in disguise: rights groups”, Prachatai English, January 14, 2015

While the main intention of the new batch of laws is officially to push for bigger integration of the internet in governance and state business with the ”digital economy” at the very top of the priority list to make the country more competitive, it also comes with a slew of sections that essentially results in cyber surveillance and monitoring.

The eight proposed bills (with links to some translated versions provided by the Thai Netizen Network) are:

  1. National Digital Committee for Economy and Society Bill
  2. Ministry of Digital for Economy and Society Bill
  3. Electronic Transaction Bill (amendment)[PDF] [Open Document]
  4. Computer-related Crime Bill(amendment) [PDF] [Open Document]
  5. Cybersecurity Bill [PDF] [OpenDocument]
  6. Personal Data Protection Bill [PDF] [Open Document]
  7. Digital Economy Promotion Bill
  8. Digital Development for Economy and Society Fund Bill
  9. Broadcasting and Telecommunication Regulator Bill (amendment)
  10. Electronic Transaction Development Agency Bill (amendment)

"Thailand’s Digital Economy-Cyber Security Bills [English translation]", Thai Netizen Network, January 15, 2015

The amendments to the Computer Crime Act and the new Cyber-Security Bill are at the center of the controversy. This is not just simply a case of legislation not being able to keep up with technological advancement, but rather the legal enabling of long-desired, ill-intended motives to be more in control of the flow of information online.

In the coming weeks this mini-series will look at the some of the controversial passages of the cyber law drafts and examine the severe implications of the laws for every internet user in Thailand.