Down the slippery slope of Internet censorship in Thailand…and what maketh a telecoms minister

The Thai interim government has gained some notoriety for its assault on the Internet, particularly after it blocked Youtube.com for refusing to take down a video clip that allegedly insulted the monarchy. Local English daily Bangkok Post finds out what it actually takes to monitor the Internet and how that slippery slope of censorship is manoeuvred.

‘Licenced’ by the Criminal Code and Council for Democratic Reform’s announcement no. 5, a team of six Telecoms staff must be prepared to stay back or return to work at night when tipped of websites that may contain material that is pornographic, lese majeste, or damaging to national security. They also receive orders from a national security unit that monitors web content. Currently, their eyes are trained on around 10 websites, including the sometimes-blocked “Hi-Thaksin” website.

Well, to block or not? As expected, this is a subjective and difficult decision in reality. Many a night is spent debating whether a website should be censored, even with the help of the deciding factor: the element of incitement to gather and demonstrate. Failing a consensus, the team would refer to a ministerial committee supervising Internet filtering. Once the decision is made, they will ask either the Internet service provider (ISP) or webmasters they are in contract with to do the actual blocking or shuttering.

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune finds a telecoms staff who does not use e-mail and says Internet is not really his thing – Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom himself. The eccentric man of many interests (that do not include communications technology) may have blocked Youtube.com, but readily admits he is “sick of people trying to get me to close down websites”. More about him here.

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