MICT’s dismal year

7 01 2010

The Bangkok Post’s excellent Database section (6 January 2010) includes a review of technology in Thailand in 2009, revolving around the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. We report almost all of it here (There whole story, with bits on 3G etc. is here):

Censorship was her chief goal when she was sworn in, and Information and Communications Technology Minister Ranongrak Suwanchwee proved ever so good at it; after she was shunted into the job because she was unqualified to be commerce minister, Mrs Ranongruk, who is totally independent politically and is not influenced in any manner by her politically banned husband Mr Pairoj, said she wanted more websites found and blocked for lese majeste; her predecessor Mun Patanotai banned a mere 1,200-plus websites in a secretive operation, although the list is now widely available and the sites are widely popular; Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) announced that by February, less than two months into Mrs Ranongruk’s crusade, the number of banned and blocked websites had grown to more than 50,000 – 17,775 by the fabulous Minister of Information and Communication Technology and the rest by police, mostly from the days of military rule; FACT offered links to “free, legal circumvention” software to set up virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass the ever-building great firewall of Thailand at facthai.wordpress.com.

Minister Ranongruk told credulous media that there had been 2,300 websites banned only, but also bragged that she “removes content” before bothering to get a court order; she also revealed a US law that no one has heard of that bans Al-Qaeda and other terrorist material on the Internet; she also explained that “the kids” use one of those, er, webcom thingmys to show their bottom half, and also have sex through a webcom; she’s a minister and she knows about this stuff.

Police raided Prachatai.com and seized servers and computers in an investigation of lese majeste allegations; officers explained that the website may have failed to delete possible lese majeste entries in less than the allotted one-millisecond; when they left they also took along Cheeranuch Premchaiphorn, the webmistress, on charges of disseminating lese majeste content from Oct 15 to Nov 3 of 2008 – and took along all files from her personal computer as well; Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that sympathy was in short supply this year, and explained that Ms Cheeranuch had the constitutional right to complain if she thought the Crime Suppression Division police did a nasty.

Mrs Ranongruk was quite proud of all this, one of the reasons the nation celebrated her tenure as by far the best minister of information and communications technology in all of 2009; she explained she had a 45 million baht ICT “war room” where her gnomes surf the web 24/7 looking for violators; she warned her counterparts at the justice, interior and defence ministries that they had better step up their efforts against all that lese majeste that is going on, lest someone accuse them of lacking loyalty; the minister’s policy statement lacked any mention of education, promoting knowledge or help to bring information technology to more people.

In addition to more censorship, said Anuparb Thiralarp, a telecoms expert, Mrs Ranongruk should commit to making your TOT and your CAT Telecom stronger, and stop them from shrinking in a competitive market; the minister realised that she had more important duties; by September, her propaganda officials announced she had blocked more than 17,000 of the worst websites, and was still furiously working on it.

Suwicha Thakhor became the first casualty of the controversial Computers Crimes Act when the Criminal Court sentenced him to 20 years for posting an altered and defamatory photo of His Majesty the King on his blog; a weeping Suwicha was hauled away after the court reduced the prison term to 10 years in exchange for his guilty plea; he would have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years if he had been charged with lese majeste, but police filed four separate charges for four separate photos, and each carried a maximum sentence of five years.

The webmaster of (exteen.com) blog was summoned by police, twice, for interrogation over a comment that might have been offensive; it was posted almost two years before Suppression Division police arrested broker-friendly Thiranant Wipuchanin and Katha Pajajiriyapong for using their computers to spread rumours about the health of His Majesty the King in the infamous Stock Exchange of Thailand manipulation of mid-October; it was the most egregious use known of the Computer Office Act of 2007, which has been used to block tens of thousands of websites for “offences” like criticising the government, and for jailing people who accessed nasty videos on YouTube.

The government admitted that more than two years and 972 million baht later, authorities never even turned on the thousands of surveillance cameras installed to monitor, catch and defeat the insurgents in the South. Security forces in the South were shocked that “high-technology” GT200 witching sticks bought for 700,000 baht apiece during the days of the military junta to detect bombs have done little to detect bombs, prevent bombings or catch bombers; the dowsing sticks peddled successfully by the Electronic K9 company of Singapore and exposed worldwide as nothing but ouija “technology” capable of picking up the operator’s prejudices, have resulted in several spectacular failures, aka bombings and deaths; on the other side, people have been arrested because of the supposed presence of bomb material on their bodies, equally false readings.

Two weeks after the army announced that terrorists in the South were switching from mobile phones to other types of remote controls to set off their bombs, the military announced it would purchase new, updated and more expensive equipment to jam mobile phones; this time, the jammers come from Japan at a cost of (cough)1.5 million baht(cough) apiece; you should be ashamed for what you’re thinking right now, the leaders of the armed forces have absolutely no motive but pure national security and the idea of a kickback on such equipment is hateful thought.

“The frustration grows,” headlined newspapers, as Minister Ranongruk was near tears, almost stamping her foot in frustration trying to detect “which satellite Thaksin is using” to speak to his red-shirt loyalists, because she really wants to cut the call; that raised the question of which is scarier: hearing the Thaksin speeches or having a technology minister who thinks the Internet runs on satellites.



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31 01 2010

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