The Internet Promotion Act:
An act to control the Internet in
Over the last couple of weeks in the pages of the <4>Bangkok Post<0>
a number of correspondents have been examining the draft Internet law
that the Thai Chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-TH) are shortly to
forward to the Minister of Transport and Communications.
On 2 January, the Third Draft of the proposed law appeared on the ISOC-TH website. The pages claimed
a date of 9 December.
One problem that has dogged international commentators is the lack of
an English translation. This is especially strange when one considers
the amount of information that is available on the ISOC-TH website.
The often used response that this is nothing to do with non-Thais is
not valid as certain articles within the draft law specifically apply
to non-Thais whether they are in Thailand or not, if information
contrary to the law is disseminated in the Realm.
Although certain parts of the contentious Articles have been removed,
enough remains to give the impression of a law which seeks to cast its
net so wide that Internet Service Providers will be forced to curtail
some services or risk fines and imprisonment.
The parts which I have now had translated suggest that the law will
fail to parallel current accepted levels of freedom of expression. It
fails to mirror the intentions of the hard-won new Constitution; and it
could also affect Press freedom. Unlike in Singapore or China where all
media are restricted, Thailand's Internet Law, in its current form will
give us two standards: restriction on the Internet unmatched with a
greater freedom in the media.
Controls that are to be put into effect under the proposals will also
hamper the operations of any current (or future) Internet Service
Provider (ISP), thus leading to problems with the way data--business,
medical, political, educational--may be handled.
Among the gems that appear in the draft are the following.
Article 5, for example, is the part of the law which lays down how the
committee that must be formed under the Act, to control the ISPs, is to
Among others, the committee supporting Internet services will be
composed of government officials from the Ministry of Communications,
representatives from the Ministry of Science and Technology, The
Ministry of Finance, and representatives from the Ministry of
Education, and the Ministry of University Affairs. There will also be a
representative from the committee of National Economic and Social
Development, one from ISOC-TH, a representative from the ISPs, one from
The Bank of Thailand as well as representatives from several
established committees and semi-official organisations.
It does not require much imagination to see what a dragging effect such
a committee will have on the previously untrammelled Internet in
Thailand. It is not more control that is needed, but less. Already we
see that figures for users (550,000) have fallen far below the wild
estimates made by Professor Srisakdi (over 1 million), while the CAT
and TOT over-regulate already. It would do the ISP community good for
one or two to fail and new, more-efficient ISPs to take their place.
Article 10, which has been expanded by another eight sub-sections in
the third draft, empowers the Committee to:
- <4><0>Support of use and services of the Internet through
development of the infrastructure;
- <4><0>Support of the organisations and people who use the
Internet in the areas of education, economics, and social and cultural
- <4><0>Support research into, and development of the Internet;
- <4><0>Support activity in, and application of the Internet;
- <4><0>Support development of Internet personnel, in order to
increase the numbers of knowledgeable and experienced personnel;
- <4><0>(New) Establish an Internet Foundation.
- <4><0>(New) Establish a National Internet Day.
- <4><0>(New) Establish a Centre for used computers and
machinery from government and private organisations.
- <4><0>(New) Establish an Internet software centre.
- <4><0>(New) Establish a sub-committee to prevent unauthorised
entry on the Internet (CERT).
- <4><0>(New) Establish a sub-committee to register domains.
- <4><0>(New) Establish a high-speed circuit network to link
the entire country to the Internet.
- <4><0>(New) Support laws and rules for use of the Internet.
- <4><0>Create laws, rules, announcements, orders and
regulations under the authority of this law;
- <4><0>Lay down rules for the duties of the registration
- <4><0>Specify the principal methods and conditions for
registration under the articles of the Law;
- <4><0>Act under the authority granted by the Minister.
This draft regulation creates the Committee as a legislative body and
allows it to create regulations on the fly: in theory to adapt swiftly
to changing circumstances. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the
rules which grant these powers are tucked down the bottom (14,15 and
16), beneath the requirements of support services and the new rules.
Those new insertions to this section, have appeared like rabbits from a
conjurer's hat and confirm that the true intent is not promotion of the
Internet in Thailand but its control: this was the original stated
intent of the law. Its philosophy has not changed.
Under this article too, the registration officer is defined simply as
the registration officer assigned by the Minister to carry out the task
under this law. One wonders whose name is already pencilled in for this
Also new are ten sections inserted after Article 10. Most deal with new
controls, or add the force of law to practices which already exist.
Only two (Articles 19 and 20) are of any concrete value. They deal
respectively with allowing the use of encryption technology; and
permitting the use of credit cards over the Internet. The encryption
key can be made available to the authorities by order of a judge.
Although an outline of Article 21 (previously Article 11) has already
been available for some weeks, the number of sections has now been
reduced to four, leaving only vague references to what may not be
permitted. My translation of item 4 is significantly different from the
earlier translation. It refers not only (rightly) to the King and the
Royal Family but also to the Heads of State of friendly foreign
Under this proposal, therefore, criticism of Britain's Queen, such as
was expressed last year at the time of Princess Diana's death, or
criticism of President Clinton (which he receives almost daily it
seems), could not be distributed in Thailand. Thus foreign newspapers
with Internet editions, could not include such articles (or could not
be available in Thailand). Nor could the Bangkok Post print such information
if it were sent via the Internet.
Article 33 is one of the parts of this law that lays down penalties. It
applies to those who distribute information against the provisions of
Article 21 (although it wrongly refers to Article 24, an administrative
item) by the method of persuasion, or promotion, to other people by the
means of computer, or distribution in the form of printed documents, or
any other form, punishment is not to exceed 40,000 baht, 2 years
imprisonment, or both. Penalties for ISPs are significantly higher.
You will note that the distribution of the information does not need to
be by the means of computer technology, although Article 21 refers to
dissemination of certain information over the Internet. In other words,
having received the information via the Internet, spreading it by other
means makes one guilty of the offence. As much news these days is
distributed on the Internet, processing that information--perhaps in a
newspaper--could make one guilty of an offence.
Under Article 39 the Law is made to apply to all persons, of any
nationality, who commit an offence under the sections of the law even
though those persons are outside the Realm.
Among other things, this part of the law, although in the main
unenforceable, will create offenders out of those who are expressing
themselves freely in their own country. It is undoubtedly directed at
the wide-ranging discussions--sometimes quite heated--which occur in
newsgroups. The only way in which this may be prevented is through
For an example of how this works, I suggest that a visit to Singapore's information site at (the original URL of
http://www.gov.sg/sba/netreg/regrel.htm is no longer available)
will give you more than enough to consider.
The next meeting at which the public may express their views on the
draft Internet law is on 15 January 1998, although the location has not
been announced on the ISOC-TH website
where you will also find a copy (in Thai only) of the draft law (no longer available -- May 2005).
You may find that downloads from this site are slow.
If you have an opinion on this law that you wish to express, write to
the President of ISOC-TH, an organisation dedicated to opposing control
of the Internet. Alternatively, send your opinion to
email@example.com or to the <4>Bangkok Post<0>.
(Note: Many of
the links and contacts are no longer available and are shown here in
order not to cut the original text.)
Graham K. Rogers