Thailand and Internet Enemies

A new report says some democracies are becoming enemies of the Internet. Thailand is one of the worst.

This week, Reporters Without Borders issued its annual list of “Enemies of the Internet” – i.e., countries that impose the most restrictions, blocks, and filtering on free access to the Internet.

The absolute worst offenders are hardly surprising – highly authoritarian states like China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan.

But a more interesting component of the report is that a number of relatively free democracies are moving up the list as dedicated enemies of the Internet. These include India, Turkey, France, Australia, South Korea, as well as others that have laws designed to filter content and prohibit some content, often on shaky national security grounds, or because of alleged local cultural sensitivities. This trend seems to be picking up, as more and more democracies are imposing such blocks and filtering.

Perhaps the worst offender of all the relative democracies is Thailand, whose Internet surveillance and blocking has become so extensive that it is slowing down Internet speeds throughout the kingdom, infuriating businesses that count on relatively high-speed access, and is potentially going to drag Thailand down, on the enemies list, into the realm of countries like China and Vietnam with which it is not normally associated, and with which most Thai officials believe there is no comparison in terms of rights.

But they are wrong. Let the numbers speak for themselves. Thailand blocks hundreds of thousands of websites, and has in the past two years stepped up its campaign against anyone alleged to have criticized the monarchy online. The government has created a “war room” of cyber monitors who are supposed to constantly troll the Internet looking for any comments on the monarchy, and Bangkok recently saluted Twitter’s decision to allow some local content to be blocked in various countries.

As Reporters Without Borders notes, “The new Thai government boasts that more online content has been blocked in the past few months than in the previous three years.” If that’s what you are boasting about, there’s a serious problem.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared. You can follow him on Twitter: @JoshKurlantzick