Royalists versus innovation

15 09 2011

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Is Thailand’s royalist elite strangling its business potential? It seems they are. Think of their support for the military coup in 2006, the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s airport occupation in 2008, and their sustained cheering for the royalist-military smashing of red shirts in 2009 and 2010, risking – almost wishing for – civil war.

Lese majeste may not seem threatening for innovators and investors, but think again. According to the Wall Street Journal, “[g]lobal companies are growing increasingly worried that Thailand’s recent clampdown on Internet traffic might drag down the country’s economic potential and make it more difficult to expand here.”

The political use of computer crimes laws “is starting to alarm investors, including a key industry group that includes such global names as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc., many of which operate here.”

The vigorous, nonsensical use of the lese majeste law has “undermin[ed] the country’s democratic credentials, analysts and free-speech activists say.” Companies have been especially worried by Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s case:

Other businesses fear they, too, could fall end up in prosecutors’ sights, chilling the growth of online commerce.

“By holding an intermediary liable for the actions of its users, this case could set a dangerous precedent and have a significant long-term impact on Thailand’s economy,” the Asia Internet Coalition said recently. The group, based in Hong Kong was founded last year by Google, Yahoo, eBay, Nokia Corp. and Microsoft Corp.’s Skype unit to lobby on Internet policy issues around Asia.

That fear is hurting business, many of it potentially innovative. The worries are real: “Some chambers of commerce in Thailand hold private briefing sessions about the risks involved in conducting any kind of online business here.”

Tyrell Haberkorn, a research fellow at Australian National University says: “It’s deeply ironic that a law whose stated aim is to create stable e-commerce environment is achieving completely the opposite result…”.

The new government has done nothing to change this bleak situation. It seems that the elite would rather strangle business and threaten every web user than allow the supposedly magnificent and deeply revered monarchy suffer a word of criticism. That’s why at least 57,000 anti-monarchy URLs are blocked.