It seems that things could always get worse. This rings especially true for expats living in Thailand. I personally love Thailand. I lived there for several months and would love to visit- if not live- there again. However, their view on the internet is getting progressively authoritarian and it is slated to get worse.
Only a month ago I wrote about the dire circumstance of internet freedom in Thailand as well as the expected loosening of China’s stranglehold on its citizens’ internet access. China, for instance, is expected to start opening up its internet in an effort to expand its economy.
Ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington D.C. last month, he invited CEOs of top tech companies to a meeting in Seattle. Those that attended included Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Tim Cook. Google and Twitter CEOs were absent but it is expected that the Google Play store will be re-launching in China this fall.
President Xi Jinping even had an official Facebook account for his visit to the US- although the site is still blocked in China. I guess even the President has a VPN.
Can’t Have Your Internet and Destroy it Too
Despite headway being made in breaking down the most sophisticated firewall in existence, Thailand is attempting to amp up its censorship. It should come as no surprise to expats in Thailand that it has an abysmal internet freedom ranking according to Freedom House– ranking worse than Malaysia, Egypt, and even Russia. They also rank 130 out of 180 in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
Last week officials announced that the country is contemplating taking a step backward in the IT field. Continuing the downward spiral started in the 2014 coups d’état, Thailand’s ‘government’ is now looking into regulating internet access once again through a single internet gateway for the country.
Since deregulation in 2006 Thailand has expanded its single internet exchange port or gateway to eight. This has been responsible for raising the average internet speed in Thailand to 6.6-7.4 Mbps; placing it 32nd in the world: comparable to Australia and ahead of Mexico and China. This relative ease of access to the world wide web has helped maintain Thailand as a top destination for those wishing to travel abroad.
In an interview with BBC’s Thai branch Colonel Settapong Malisuwan, President of the Communication Authority of Thailand, said that the single gateway proposal had two objectives. The first was to filter out ‘inappropriate’ material from overseas. The other ‘primary purpose’ is to increase Thailand’s IT sector and provide incentives for ISPs in Thailand to use the Thai internet gateway instead of neighboring countries. The Colonel also highlighted ‘national security’ as default excuse for implementing a single internet gateway.
The latest available information puts the number of blocked websites at 22,599- in March of 2014. That number can only be expected to increase dramatically if the government is given total control over a single gateway for its 67 million citizens.
Further contradicting the proposal’s foreseeable outcome against the government’s jaded expectations; the Information and Communication Technology Ministry (ICT) announced that they were considering making the northern city of Chiang Mai and the southern beach town of Phuket into ‘smart cities.’ The idea would be to boost tech start-up interest in the two cities and turn Thailand into the digital hub of Southeast Asia. However, this seems far fetched if internet speeds were to decrease and censorship to increase.
Single Gateway Resistance
The irony is not only that Thailand is modeling its internet after China, which is, if anything, mulling the weakening of its firewall. The irony is also that by implementing a single gateway system they will likely be working against all of the progress they are attempting to make.
First, national security would not be increased. Obviously, attacking a single point of vulnerability is much easier to attack than if there are several gateways. It’s easy to deduce that if this single gateway comes under attack, or even experiences technical issues, and fails then it would cripple the entire country’s internet.
Second, having a single portal for internet traffic to flow into and out of a country of 67 million will significantly degrade the speed. No one likes slow internet, and that includes tech companies. If the Thai government wishes to develop its country into a digital hub in Southeast Asia then they must work with the flow of information. Having a single gateway is just not a viable model.
Third, besides a slow internet, tech companies also inherently dislike being told what to do. They will resist at every turn if any entity attempts to tell them what information they can use. This protest will easily extend to simply leaving-or never entering- a country if the government proves to be too authoritarian. This too, will inhibit Thailand’s ability to grow as a digital hub.
Of course, this proposal has met resistance.
For starters, a DDoS attack was carried out on September 30th following the announcement. Activists took to social media to organize a manual DDoS attack. Instead of using a botnet in order to flood a server with a massive amount of requests, the Thai people were able to take down several government websites via hitting the refresh button.
In addition to the overnight DDoS attack. A petition against the single gateway proposal, dubbed The Great Firewall of Thailand, has already been signed by nearly 150,000 people. If you wish to join the protest you can by signing it here.
As has been proven throughout history, it is human nature to crave power. In the modern era, this is no different. Man craves power. What greater form of power is there than information (especially in the information age)? The control of information. If you control information and the flow of it, then you control the people who consume it. This quest for power will never disappear completely but it can be mitigated by the people. Unfortunately, as long as Thailand is under military rule the people are fighting an uphill battle.
feature image courtesy of Wisaruth Wisidh.
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