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by Yu-Kyung Lee in Bangkok/Thailand, 11 November 2015

Online censorship ‘reloaded’ (1)

Thai government has seemed planning a new censorship project called ‘Single Gateway’. After the covert plan accidently revealed by a tweet, outcry among online community – particularly game community has been escalating. The community and citizens have launched DDoS attack on government websites, demanding “complete nullification” of Single Gateway.

by Yu-Kyung Lee in Bangkok/Thailand, 11 November 2015

 

“I am a gamer not because I don’t have a life, but because I choose to have many.”

The 201 pages of Army Intelligence Report has contained censorship plan. Page 130 (photo) shows ‘Army Cyber Center’, which seems consistent with ‘Cyberwar unit’ announced by the Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.
The 201 pages of Army Intelligence Report has contained censorship plan. Page 130 (photo) shows ‘Army Cyber Center’, which seems consistent with ‘Cyberwar unit’ announced by the Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

Thai gamer Prawut (pseudonym) calls cyber world “our house”, where he can choose plural lives. Recently he’s been on Cyber Warfare against a powerful enemy, that is the Thai military government. The Junta seems to have obsessed with censorship since it seized power in a coup last year. Citizens have haunted by intimidation ‘on and off’. The new project named ‘Single Gateway’, which was accidently revealed, could be a strong tool of intimidating online. It has prompted Prawut to set up Facebook page employing “F5” - ‘reloading’ or ‘refreshing’ – on its name. More than 20,000 users have liked the page. They are now ‘Citizens opposing Single Gateway Internet Firewall’, or ‘F5 Cyber Warriors’.

Revelation of Single Gateway is dating to September 22, when a tweeter user (@Sik***u) tweeted something that Prawut has to worry about.

“Thai cabinet wants MICT to create a Single Gateway for Thailand to block access to sites and control information flow.”

MICT, or Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, has been on the frontline for censorship operation in Thailand. The tweet has embedded a URL from the website of Public Relation Department. The link has shown the government’s plan of Single Gateway, but has disappeared shortly indicating that the government quietly, if not covertly, has been framing it out. Unless the sharp-eyed tweeter revealed it, the post may have remained unrecognized.  

Revelation of the Junta’s censorship project

According to various reports, Single Gateway has become a Cabinet agenda since June 30. On July 14, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Char reportedly ordered “urgent implementation” of the plan. Cabinet resolution on the plan was tabled again on August 4. MICT and other relevant authorities were ordered to follow up on progress and report to Prime Minister on August 27, when cabinet resolution has explicitly stated the project’s purpose : “To control inappropriate website and information flow from abroad”. Then the project has been reportedly endorsed by the Cabinet on September 1st. No official announcement has been made, however, nor any attention caught, until September 22 when the first tweet appeared.

The notion of Single Gateway has never been officially defined. But there is common interpretation that government aims total control over internet traffic through state-commanding ISP. This would enable the government to filter ‘undesirable’ information, particularly those flowed in from abroad let alone domestic contents.   

Interestingly, it was game community who opposed it most at first. According to Statista, - the website specialized in various statistic, there are some 9,9 million gamers in Thailand which amount to more than ‘one in six’ of Thailand’s 67 million population. They have become leading forces of resistance against the Junta’s new breed of censorship. The gamer Prawut, who’s been at the center of Cyber Warfare, defines this war as “war between dictatorship and online community.”

“We will continue our attack until the government would issue written resolution stating complete cancellation of the project” He wrote in a messenger interview with this writer. “Just for a short and simple word, Freedom” He emphasized. “We think that online is where freedom is left. It’s the last space in this country” he added.

What impact would Single Gateway bring to gamers then? I asked.  

“It will create bottleneck in online system. Information will be difficult to flow. It means..” he continued “gamers in Thailand will be doomed”. “There will be no future for us to compete with anyone in the world.” 

According to Prawut, ‘Cyber Warriors’ of his Facebook page are “gamers, students using internet, online merchants and ordinary citizens who came together to oppose the project.”

The state-owned telecommunication company CAT was hacked by Anonymous on October 22.
The state-owned telecommunication company CAT was hacked by Anonymous  on October 22.

Experts warned that Single Gateway would cause serious technical hurdle slowing down the internet speed. This must affect numerous micro online businesses. In fact, none of businesses can sustain without online facility in the digital era, particularly in metropolitan city such as Bangkok. This is probably why the Thai government has promoted ‘digital hub’ or ‘digital economy’.

“It ‘s totally opposite of digital hub” said Supinya Klangnarong, commissioner of National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Committee (or NBTC) at the panel discussion organized by Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (or FCCT) on October 7. “Around 17 telecommunication companies got licenses for 15-20 years. Single gateway would be nightmare, impossible” she said. “I understand concept behind this, (there’s) another agenda” she added.

‘Another agenda’, so has resistance begun.

It began with a petition campaign. Petition has aimed 200,000 and reached over 150,000 within two weeks. Next? it was DDoS attack. ‘F5 Cyber activists’ has conducted its first attack on September 30 on pre-announced targets. The list includes MICT, Government House, Defense Ministry and ISOC. The websites of the targets had been indeed down, and still disturbed next day.       

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