Thai government faces opposition in bid to build single internet gateway

Proposal to create a single internet gateway has been described by critics as a way to clamp down on online dissent and will adversely impact the quality of online services in Thailand.

Officials from Thailand's Pheu Thai Party have spoken out against the government's proposal to establish a single internet gateway, arguing that it would adversely affect online services in the country.

Pheu Thai's former minister of information and communication technology, Anudith Nakornthap, and deputy spokesperson Anusorn Iamsaard told local media on Thursday that running all internet traffic through a single gateway would lead to sluggish online services. They added that it also could potentially cause a complete nationwide internet meltdown should a technical glitch occur, reported Bangkok Post.

The officials warned that this would adversely affect businesses operating in Thailand and hinder the country's ambition of becoming a hub in the ASEAN digital economy. Furthermore, instilling controls on the gateway would curtail freedom of expression and user privacy, they said.

The Thai government, though, played down the impact of the internet gateway, noting that the proposal was still undergoing review and the aim was to implement "multiple gateways", not just one.

Information and Communication Technology Minister Uttama Savanayana said the government was assessing ways to better utilise the country's resources, internet, and telecommunication infrastructure, reported The Nation.

Uttama said: "For example, is it possible to together use the international internet gateways in order to reduce costs? For inbound internet connections, is it possible to have a neutral internet exchange and set up a joint-company to operate this, while the government oversees and protects people, not violates their basic rights?"

He added that further assessment was necessary to determine if new laws were needed to support the deployment or if the existing Computer Crime Act could be applied.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong had earlier dismissed suggestions that the proposal for a single gateway was to control information. He said the idea was mooted as a way to better manage associated costs of managing increasing internet traffic and for cybersecurity. A single gateway also would enable authorities to more easily control access to and block inappropriate websites, the government said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), however, said the proposal was simply the Thai government's way of curbing online dissent. In a statement posted on its website, the industry lobbyist said the country's attempt to create "a single government-controlled gateway" for international traffic signals was a danger to online freedom.

CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative, Shawn Crispin, said: "Thailand needs fewer, not more, controls on the internet. [Current prime minister] Prayuth [Chan-o-cha] should scrap the one gateway plan and any other designs to block, censor, or surveil the internet and internet-based social media applications.

"Any new laws or plans to govern Thailand's internet should be left for a new, elected administration, not his self-appointed military junta," Crispin said.

CPJ said the Thai military government had been cracking down on online dissent, specifically for postings deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy. It pointed to the recent sentencing of tour guide Pongsak Sriboonpeng to 30 years in prison over his Facebook posts criticising the monarchy.

Government websites hit by DDoS attack

Meanwhile, cyberhackers targeted several Thai government websites Wednesday night, causing the sites to go offline overnight. The websites of the Information and Communication Technology and finance ministries and state-owned CAT Telecom were among those targeted in what was a suspected DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack.

The attacks appeared to be a response to the government's proposal for the single gateway.

More than 100,000 signatures have been collected in a petition opposing the bid, or what the online community has coined the "Great Firewall of Thailand", in reference to China government's own internet gateway.

According to Bangkok Post, there are currently more than 10 internet gateways in Thailand, encompassing those for commercial and non-commercial use.

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