The Internet Promotion Act:

An act to control the Internet in Thailand

Over the last couple of weeks in the pages of the Bangkok Post 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 be formed.

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:

  1. Support of use and services of the Internet through development of the infrastructure;
  2. Support of the organisations and people who use the Internet in the areas of education, economics, and social and cultural fields;
  3. Support research into, and development of the Internet;
  4. Support activity in, and application of the Internet;
  5. Support development of Internet personnel, in order to increase the numbers of knowledgeable and experienced personnel;
  6. (New) Establish an Internet Foundation.
  7. (New) Establish a National Internet Day.
  8. (New) Establish a Centre for used computers and machinery from government and private organisations.
  9. (New) Establish an Internet software centre.
  10. (New) Establish a sub-committee to prevent unauthorised entry on the Internet (CERT).
  11. (New) Establish a sub-committee to register domains.
  12. (New) Establish a high-speed circuit network to link the entire country to the Internet.
  13. (New) Support laws and rules for use of the Internet.
  14. Create laws, rules, announcements, orders and regulations under the authority of this law;
  15. Lay down rules for the duties of the registration officer;
  16. Specify the principal methods and conditions for registration under the articles of the Law;
  17. 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 position.

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 countries.

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 total control.

For an example of how this works, I suggest that a visit to Singapore's information site at (the original URL of 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 or to the Bangkok Post.  

(Note: Many of the links and contacts are no longer available and are shown here in order not to cut the original text.)

Draft One
Draft Three

Graham K. Rogers
January 1998