Nanny State

A few days ago The Times published a report of an interview in Dubai with former Prime Minister Thaksin on its website. The next day that report was blocked. The nanny state strikes again.

The article wasn’t particularly significant – certainly not on a par with Luther’s 95 Theses, Das Kapital or On the Origin of Species. The mere fact that it was in English would limit its appeal to most Thais. Yet it is considered so dangerous that no one here can be allowed to read it.

Website blocking is a lot of fun! Imagine sitting at the computer all day searching the web for pictures of pretty ladies in a state of undress, carefully checking the site to make sure it really is pornographic, not artistic, then blocking it so no one else can see it. In fact, it’s such fun that there are several bodies in Thailand which are involved in blocking websites. The largest of these (by number of sites blocked) is the Royal Thai Police. Probably next in size is the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT). They send a (secret) list of sites to be blocked to each ISP. The ISPs apparently aren’t too keen on the job of entering this list onto their systems, so sometimes they don’t bother, and a site can be available through one ISP, but not through another. Finally, there’s CAT which was, until recently, the monopoly provider of Internet connectivity out of Thailand. (I presume that the newer providers of international connectivity are also involved in blocking, but I’m not certain.)

Thailand is a very puritanical country – pornography and sex toys are strictly illegal – not that one would get that impression from wandering through Patpong, Soi Nana or Soi Cowboy where prostitutes openly ply their trade, or from the open sale of “dirty videos” along Sukhumwit Road (one of the major tourist areas in Bangkok) or in Pantip Plaza (a shopping mall dedicated to computer equipment). And the sex industry isn’t only geared towards tourists and foreigners; every town has its brothel or two. OK, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Thailand has very puritanical governments.

Of course, it’s not only pornographic sites that are blocked. Sites commenting on the situation in the south are blocked, as are those of certain political parties and political commentators, sites commenting unfavourably on His Majesty and the Royal Family, and sites which either comment on Internet censorship in Thailand or might help one bypass that censorship.

Fortunately (?), website blocking is getting more sophisticated here in Thailand. In the past, entire websites would be blocked willy-nilly. At times all of Youtube and WordPress have been unavailable because of a single offending image or text. However, I was pleased to find that it was just a single page on The Times website that is being blocked – the rest of the content is still available. And, amazingly, that content includes a full 12 page transcript of the original interview with Thaksin! I guess Nanny should try harder.

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