The Thought Police in Thailand
The Thailand Chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC) is about to foist an
unnecessary law to control the Internet on an unsuspecting public. The
draft has been produced by an Executive that completely fails to
represent Internet users in Thailand despite the claimed openness and
the aims of the Organisation .
The Thai Chapter of ISOC was formed in 1996 when its Constitution
was written. This lays down the ways in which ISOC is to be run,
including the method of appointing an executive committee. This
Constitution is fatally flawed and allows for centralisation of power:
the Draft Law (and its writing process) is one manifestation of the
exercise of such power.
The Constitution is flawed because is lays down impossible conditions
for the processes of ISOC: conditions which can then be circumvented by
a small core group. Decisions should be made by the General Assembly of
members. For a forum (sic)--the word should be "quorum"--50% of the
members must be present.
At the time of its founding, with the small number of members--those
who promulgated the Constitution--it would have been easy to collect
together such a body. Now, however, with a little over 21,000 members
(ISOC's figures), bringing together over 10,000 people is
If the General Assembly does not have a "forum", a second meeting held
within 15 days is able to vote through any measures with no less than
20 persons present. The Executive Committee has 33 members including
the Chairman of the Advisory Council, the Honorary President and the
President, Dr. Srisakdi Charmonman.
The President is the only official elected. This is done at a meeting
of the General Assembly. He holds the position for two years. All other
members of the Executive are appointed by the President.
A look at the list of 33 reveals what are, in theory, some of the top
names in the Thai computer and communications industry: technocrats who
understand the Sciences of how data passes but not the Art of using it.
But this Executive is also a power bloc.
The absences from that list are perhaps more revealing: no women, no
ordinary users, no students, no journalists, no business users (outside
of telecomms); and certain organisations are absent--their
representatives were simply not appointed.
To remove a member of the Executive Committee needs "not less than 3 in
4 majority of the General Assembly," which in practice would require a
little over 15,000 votes at a meeting. The Constitution further allows
that when the "founding president" finishes his term of office he
becomes a permanent member of the Executive Committee.
It is this skewed and entrenched committee that has shouldered the
responsibility for creating the Internet Law.
The legislation planned seeks to control use of and access to the
Internet in eleven specific areas (see below). As the central
philosophy of the Internet has been its openness and freedom of access
to information, any such restriction will seriously erode Thailand's
growth in this area: free interchange of ideas; access to information;
educational access; trade; science; and access to improved technology.
The Internet in Thailand does not need more control, especially of this
nature. What it needs is effective self-policing that comes from
education. Existing laws are adequate for the traffic that occurs.
There is no English version of the draft law available (nor of minutes
of meetings), even though the main points of the draft were copied from
Singapore. That in itself should send a warning signal. The needs of
Thailand are not best served by alien <4> mores<0>.
Article 11 of the Draft "Prohibits dissemination of information on the
<4><0/>4><4><0>There is not one item here that needs
specific Internet-based legislation.
- <4><0>Information that is against
the peacefulness of society that leads to the disunity of the nation or
leads to the ruin of international relationships; 0>4>
- <4><0>Immoral information or
information which is against the culture and norms of the nation; 0>4>
- <4><0>Information that disparages
religion, religious practices, places of worship. Also, information
that disparages highly respected persons or respected places or
respected things; 0>4>
- <4><0>Inappropriate information
concerning the King and the Royal Family; 0>4>
- <4><0>Political issues which
impact the nation's security; 0>4>
- <4><0>Pornography and all related
- <4><0>Intentionally discrediting
the nation, the Government and government officials; 0>4>
- <4><0>Cruelty, abuses against
human rights; 0>4>
- <4><0>Promotion of illegal
- <4><0>Information on sex services;
- <4><0>Information which
supports gambling. 0>4>
Each and every one of them has specific laws designed to control the
worst excesses but by focusing on the Internet and seeking to restrict
the amount of access, a dangerous precedent is set.
In 1992, when the Suchinda Government was battling with
street-protesters, an attempt was made to control information.
Newspapers and television were censored. The fledgling Internet was
not; and nor were telephones or the vast numbers of fax machines. As a
consequence, information was able to flow into the country. It was then
disseminated by Internet and through the many bulletin boards (bbs)
that then existed. Here was a use of the Internet (and related
technology) that was in direct opposition to the government of the day:
a healthy exercise of the democratic process.
It should be noted that there is no mention in the Draft of whether the
information is incoming or outgoing. If something that is thought of as
a threat or is deemed pornographic is sent from outside Thailand to a
user's mailbox as unsolicited mail, is the user to be held responsible?
Application of such a law must change utterly the way in which the
Internet will operate in Thailand. Instead of expanding, it will
stagnate. Article 11 applies not only to users sending or receiving
information but to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) too. The ISP,
which also disseminates--or distributes-- the data, albeit passively,
is equally liable under the terms of this section of the Draft Law.
Some would cease operation. All would risk prosecution. Those who
wished to remain would need to install such machinery for checking,
verifying and censoring that the inevitable delays would choke the
service: businesses relying on Internet communication would suffer;
doctors trying to access databases and information overseas would have
to put treatment on hold; students now beginning increasingly to use
the Internet, because up-to-date texts are lacking, would not be
permitted the instant downloads of new information that their studies
Nowhere in the proposals is there a definition of what may constitute a
threat, nor what is pornographic. Such legislation and vague phrasing
has historically been the preserve of dictators seeking to prevent free
exchange of ideas. If the writers of such laws attempt to control what
you read or write, it will affect the way you think and your choice of
whom to communicate with.
The draft controls on the Internet do not parallel the freedoms allowed
in the Press, on TV and in everyday, personal 0>4>(edited: spelling error)<4><0>
Such controls as less-enlightened nations have placed on their users'
access to the Internet--and thus the world beyond--do nothing to
advance society. Instead control is focused into a few individuals.
When the law passes its drafting process--as it invariably will--let us
hope that whoever forms the Government of the day sees it not for its
stated intent as a means of protecting Thai people, but for what it
really is: a method of control that will restrict free access to the
World and poison any growth in communications at its root.
Graham K. Rogers