MICT official: Thailand to streamline blocking of internet content
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MICT official: Thailand to streamline blocking of internet content

By Lisa Gardner | @leesebkk

Thai Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) officials called for greater regional support in their efforts to curb ‘inappropriate’ online content Tuesday.

At a cyber-security forum held in Mongolia, officials claimed that the junta had not yet issued directives to the Ministry to crackdown on online sites critical of the coup.

“It is quite a sensitive matter that’s at stake,” said Mr. Piyakhun Nopphakhun, of the Crime Suppression Division of MICT. “Even though the military has taken over, they have not commanded us about what to do.”

Since the coup began last Thursday, the Royal Thai Army has ordered internet service providers (ISPs) to monitor online content that might lead to unrest, asked social media companies to prevent the spread of ‘provocative messages’ and barred media from presenting news critical of the junta.

Mr. Piyakhun said he believed that recent efforts by the Ministry to curb online content were not political in nature.

“This is not because of the coup, it is very normal practice,” he said. “But I agree that the coup will have some effect. They (the Royal Thai Army) will put more people into helping fight the websites.”

He acknowledged that efforts to curb online content could be seen to violate rights.

“Some people may ask about freedom of expression. I have to say that it will actually affect (this),” he said. “But at the moment we are following due process.”

MICT officials had travelled to the Mongolian regional forum with hopes of curbing perceived inefficiencies in the blocking of online content.

“It takes about a week to block a website,” Mr. Piyakhun explained. “One or two days to gather evidence. One or two days to get permission from MICT… One or two days to go to court. One or two days to distribute court orders to ISPs. One week is too slow.”

Mr. Piyakun outlined efforts to curtail DDoS attacks, spam, and unauthorized access to computer systems, but placed particular focus on the Ministry’s duties under section 20 of the Computer Crimes Act.

“Under Section 20, it says that if material is to disseminate computer data that may have an effect on Kingdom’s security… or contrary to peace, harmony or the good morals of the people, then ‘competent officials’ may file a petition to the court to restrain the dissemination of such computer data.”

He suggested that the Ministry hopes to move away from a paper-based system almost entirely, speeding up the blocking of online content.

“At the moment everything is on paper,” he said. “You have to print it out, present the evidence to the Ministers and the courts, and you have to present papers to the ISPs. If documents are not signed, we have to wait even longer. Computer officials have to physically travel to the courts to receive court orders.

“At the moment we are in the process of getting approval to distribute court orders to the ISPs electronically. We are going to appoint one representative ISP to distribute these court orders to the other ISPs, because that representative would know which ISPs are active.”

He acknowledged that legal questions remain. “Technically, it is going to be very easy,” he said. “But legally, is the only question. Are there any laws, regulations that allow us to do this legally? Do we really need to be present in court to present evidence?”

Mr. Piyakhun repeatedly declined to respond to questions from the press as to MICT’s role in blocking recent online anti-coup content.

“At the moment, in Thailand, we still need to educate people about how to use the internet. There are so many websites that we cannot investigate all the cases,” said Mr. Pirakhun.

“In terms of punishment, we’ll have to talk about that later,” he added.