Thai censorship bill set for passage

Proposed new law gives the information and communications technology minister unrestricted power to shut down pornographic and anti-monarchy Web sites.

A bill to give the information and communications technology (ICT) minister unrestricted power to shut down pornographic and anti-monarchy Web sites is expected to be tabled in the military appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) next month.

IT law expert Paiboon Amonpinyokeat told a seminar on Internet censorship yesterday that the law would equip the ICT minister with the legal muscle to deal with wayward websites.

The government currently has to go through the Council for National Security and seek cooperation from Internet service providers to block Web sites with offensive content.

However, the Cyber Crime Bill would clearly stipulate a procedure for the ICT Ministry to shut down or block Web sites deemed damaging to society and state security, said Mr Paiboon, a partner at Gilberte, Reed & Co law firm.

Under Article 17 of the bill, the ICT minister could seek court approval to shut down undesirable Web sites. It would be the first time that Thailand had a legal tool to deal with the problem, he said.

Mr Paiboon recommended, however, that self-regulation among "netizens" and "net operators" should be promoted along with the new law.

Jittat Fakcharoenphol, a lecturer at Kasetsart University's computer engineering department, suggested that there were ways to deal with issues disturbing to society.

"We should not think only about the law but about applicable technology when we want to block undesirable Web sites to prevent indecent content like pornography from reaching minors," he said.

Proactive measures through sensible technology could be a more effective tool in blocking Web sites, he said.

C.J. Hinke, from Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (Fact), said 1,279 books were banned in Thailand from 1850 to 1998, most in an attempt to suppress communism.

Mr Hinke said the lese majeste law has become a powerful tool for authorities to enforce censorship, despite the fact that books and films with content critical of the monarchy do not change the truth about the good things His Majesty the King has done for the country.

"I think Thai authorities should stop treating people like children and allow discussion among ourselves so we can really debate and become an informed society," he said.

Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of Fah Diew Gan magazine, said Thai society would take a similar path to Singapore's if it was to use self-censorship as a principle.