Facebook and geoblocking for the junta

1 09 2018

The Online Citizen has a post from Andrew MacGregor Marshall titled “Why is Facebook helping dictators?

He begins by noting Facebook’s “public relations campaign to counter accusations that the platform enables dangerous disinformation and hate speech,” and observes that in recent days “Facebook took some of its boldest steps yet to counter misuse of the platform, removing 18 Facebook accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook pages in Myanmar, followed by almost 12 million people. Among those banned was Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces.”

Meanwhile, he notes that Facebook works with Thailand’s dictators: “Facebook continues to pander to dictators by also blocking genuine news about their activities and atrocities. While it continues to do so, Facebook cannot genuinely claim to be promoting truth and cracking down on disinformation.”

In particular, he refers to Facebook having agreed to geoblock a particular video of the soon to be king in Germany. This made it “inaccessible to anyone resident in Thailand. ” Why did Facebook do this? It says that “Thai authorities [the military junta] had produced a court order claiming the video breached the draconian lèse-majesté law — which prohibits any content deemed insulting to the monarchy — and so it was obliged to geoblock the post.”

Marshall continues, saying that “Over the past month, the Thai authorities have escalated aggressive efforts to geoblock content deemed embarrassing to King Vajiralongkorn. Twelve of my Facebook posts have been geoblocked this month alone, and posts by several exiled Thai dissidents have also been affected.”

While 2018 data is not available, Facebook posts on what it calls “Content Restrictions Based on Local Law.” It states this:

When something on Facebook or Instagram is reported to us as violating local law, but doesn’t go against our Community Standards, we may restrict the content’s availability in the country where it is alleged to be illegal. We receive reports from governments and courts, as well from non-government entities such as members of the Facebook community and NGOs….

The recent data for Thailand is in the graph appended here, drawn from the Facebook reports. It seems there’s been a spike since King Vajiralongkorn took the throne.





Digital dopes

30 07 2018

Something called OpenGov sells itself as “entrepreneurial” and with a “purpose” to “Inform and Empower,” but unfortunately chooses to do this by being “dedicated to sharing ICT-related knowledge and information between governments.” Naturally enough it seems to reside in state-heavy Singapore.

Its recent article on Thailand it claims that “Thailand” is “looking to promote equality when it comes to digital access. The Thai government has partnered up with Google in a bid to reduce the digital divide that exists in Thailand.”

Interesting indeed that the military dictatorship is partnered with Google.

It reports on the “first Google for Thailand event … held in Bangkok yesterday under the theme of ‘Leave No Thai behind’. During the event [G]oogle announced a series of initiatives that it will be undertaking, in partnership with the Thai government. These initiatives include, free high speed public Wi-fi that will enable more Thai businesses and consumers to contribute to the growth of the digital economy.”

No Thai left behind, in Bangkok. As might be expected, Bangkok already has the highest internet penetration rates, with one measure listing it among the world’s top 25 cities. For the country, with about 33 million users, Thailand ranks 116th in percentage of population served.

But back to the article. Back in 2013, it says, the “Thai government announced that it was working towards increasing digital access in Thailand through increasing mobile penetration from 52% to 133% in 2020.” In terms of smartphone penetration, Thailand actually ranks about 31st in percentage terms.

So Thailand ranks reasonably high and Bangkok is probably fully saturated. So the deal seems to be about business and providing (precarious) employment for more people.

In other words, the “partnership” is about assisting the military dictatorship, but the article says nothing about the junta’s efforts to control the internet, its massive censorship of online discussion and its ubiquitous snooping.

So all the text on “opportunities.” “easy access” and feeling “more secure with accessing national and important information online” is waffle and ignores the basic political fact: Thailand is not open.

And neither is OpenGov when it mentions “the Prime Minister of Thailand” and its “government” without noting that the former is a military dictator and the latter is a military junta.





More on the digital Panopticon

18 05 2018

Yesterday we posted on the construct a digital Panopticon. The Bangkok Post military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam has more on the military’s plans for more intensive cyber scrutiny and snooping.

She reports that the Defence Ministry is recruiting civilians and military reserve force members to work as so-called “cyber warriors.” This “special unit” apparently adds to the military’s already extensive “cyber security” capacity.

The bit about using the military reserve is important as Lt Gen Ritthi Intharawut, head of the Defence Ministry’s cyber team, compares its use to the Cold War:

During the Cold War era, the military reserve force was seen as a militia that was very important to the armed forces. But now in the era of cyber warfare, ‘cyber warriors’ are an important asset for the nation….

What Wassana does not mention is that the snooping plan, as in the Cold War, was one of the military’s means for surveillance and for threatening political opponents. Those actions came with associated secrecy and an impunity for the gross acts committed by the military and its semi-trained and armed vigilantes.

Cyber surveillance, threats and legal harassment will assist the military’s continued domination of Thailand’s politics and society.





Constructing the junta’s digital Panopticon

17 05 2018

Anyone who has watched the junta’s boot grinding down political activism, one of the most noticeable and distasteful of its repressive efforts has been to establish vigilantism supporting military hired spies who police the internet for content the military dictators feel is threatening. This usually means online lese majeste although the junta has also bee watchful of its own egos and has also policed the Thai world for political dissidents.

It seems that its “successes” in political repression and censorship have prompted the military and the junta to seek to construct a digital Panopticon. Initially devised by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century, the idea was to construct a prison where the inmates could be observed without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The idea was to impose order and passivity because the inmates cannot know when they are being watched meaning they become motivated to act as though they are being watched at every single moment.

The junta wants all Thais and others in Thailand to believe they are under surveillance all the time. In other words, the whole society becomes, in everyone’s mind, a political prison.

An editorial at the Bangkok Post states that the junta “plans to recruit civilian so-called ‘cyber warriors’ … it needs to ensure they target the right groups of people.” The military dictatorship is hiring and training another 200 cyber spies, with a goal of having 5,000 by 2023. Such a massive spying mission is in the hands of the Minister of Justice – of which there is little – ACM Prajin Juntong.

The plan announced by the junta “leaves room for worries on whether they will be mainly used as a political tool to suppress freedom of expression and hunt down political dissidents.” Fascists will be fascists.

And, as the editorial notes, “a cyber security bill has been drafted pending approval by lawmakers. If enacted into law, it will allow the authorities to take broader control of online activity, including snooping on individuals’ personal computers.”

Another Bangkok Post story refers to the military – not a regular, civilian ministry – is developing ways of tracking tourists, investors and migrant workers, among others. Such tracking is used in other countries but it is only in the darkest of authoritarian regimes that it is the military doing it.

Be very concerned at how broadly the military has defined its role in Thailand. It has seeped and oozed into every arena and level of civilian administration. Even if a junta party doesn’t “win” the junta-granted “election,” the military thugs will be everywhere. The Panopticon is in place.





Junta vs. red shirts

11 03 2018

The military junta is intensifying internet censorship again. For us at PPT it is kind of difficult to determine if we have posted anything that gets their minions excited or whether it is just a broader effort to crack down on stuff considered of the opposition.

Meanwhile, Thai PBS recently reported that the junta is still trying to keep the military boot firmly on the neck of the official red shirts.

The Bangkok Military Court has recently had 18 red shirt leaders before it, including Jatuporn Promphan who is already jailed. They face charges of “defying the order of the National Council for Peace and Order in 2016.” Yes, that is 2016.

Jatuporn was in chains and “escorted by soldiers.” The junta treats its opponents in ways that are meant to degrade but actually demonstrates the repressive and vindictive nature of the military regime.

Apart from Jatuporn, the others “included Nattawut Saikur, Mrs Thida Thavornset, Weng Tochirakarn, Yongyut Tiyaphairat, Korkaew Pikulthong, and Virakarn Musikapong.”

The faked up charges relate to the “holding political assembly of more than five people after they held a press conference at Imperial Department Store in June 2016 to announce the formation of the Centre for the Suppression of Referendum Fraud.”

This was when the junta was forcing through its constitution in a unfree and unfair referendum.





Nine years of PPT

21 01 2018

Yet another year has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand.

After nine years, it is dispiriting that we must still post on gross authoritarianism, monarchy and political repression in Thailand.

PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners would have been released and political repression replaced with a more democratic regime.

We began PPT on 21 January 2009, thinking our endeavors would be temporary. More than 7,000 posts and millions of views later, we are still at it, and Thailand is currently more authoritarian than it was when we began.

Thailand has now had an illegal military regime for almost four years. That regime was founded in nonsensical royalism and bound to a monarchy that remains feudal in its politics and grasping in its economic location. One king has gone and the new one is treading both a familiar path while adding his own peculiar positions and toadies. He has shown himself driven by the desire for wealth, power and to rid his kingdom of the vestiges of the 1932 revolution.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream. The “reform” promised by the military junta and now embedded in a military-royal constitution promises that Thailand will remain dominated by an authoritarian elite for years to come.

The past year saw “enthusiasm” for an election, but without some kind of political slapdown of the junta, no election in Thailand can be free or fair under the junta’s rules.

When we sputtered into life PPT was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes in 2009 and 2010 with hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. That alliance looks weaker today as the junta and The Dictator seemingly prepare for post-election repression by a military-dominated regime.

Opponents of the military and the monarchy continue to be detained, coerced and threatened. Lese majeste has been used against them, silencing them and those who become fearful that they too might be whisked away into detention.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a  political dark age. The current military junta has used the lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition laws as grotesque weapons of choice for its political repression.

Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few. The military junta is seeking to institutionalize this control and power.

It seems forlorn to hope for the release of political prisoners under this regime.

Even so, we must remember that lese majeste is used in unconstitutional ways and the authorities demand “confessions” from those charged so that the courts do nothing but sentence. We should recall that brave individuals like Somyos Pruksakasemsuk and Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, now imprisoned for almost seven years and one year respectively, remain in jail. There are scores of others, workers, red shirts and activists, including the most recent inmate, a blind woman. Their continued imprisonment is a travesty of justice and their treatment has been inhumane and, in many cases, illegal.

In recent years, these lese majeste cases have grown exponentially. Military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than this,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the draconian lese majeste law has been extended to include implied lese majeste and the “protection” of royals not cover by the law and even royal dogs and kings long dead.

PPT has now had more than 5.4 million page views at our two sites. We aren’t in the big league in the blogging world, despite an “award” ranking Political Prisoners of Thailand as one of Thailand’s top 100 blogs (in English). Even so, the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste internationally has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to the issue than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of the issue is far more critical than it was when we began.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through the deepening attempts by the Thai censors to block us. Since mid-December, many of our readers in Thailand can only access PPT using a VPN.

We trust that we remain useful and we appreciate the emails we receive.

As in the past, we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be deposed.





Bling, buddies and bosses

9 01 2018

It is no coincidence that the junta’s efforts to block URLs it doesn’t like have peaked exactly when it is under scrutiny. To be more precise, when Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan is under scrutiny.

Just over a month ago, as Prawit’s extensive collection of very expensive watches began to be exposed on social media, censorship went into overdrive. Then the mainstream media picked up the story and has reported the rapidly growing list of watches and expensive jewels worn by the general. (He has a stash of heavy gold jewelry as well, but that has seen little attention to date).

Then the National Anti-Corruption Commission got involved and began spreading a large rug, presumably to sweep the case under it as the public watches agog.

From the beginning it has been reported that NACC president Police General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit was not just appointed by the junta after having served in the junta following the coup, but is also a close aide of Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwon, younger brother of Gen Prawit.

The NACC and its boss seem intent on demonstrating how nepotism works under the junta.

As the photos of watches and jewelry pile up on a daily basis, the NACC says it “will take until the end of this month or early next month to complete its probe into the luxury watches scandal surrounding … Prawit…”.

Watcharapol has “assured” the public that the NACC will display “professionalism and transparency in the investigation.” He “explained” that the agency’s “decision over this issue will be made by a majority of nine commissioners, not by me. I can’t have influence over other commissioners…”. As he hasn’t recused himself from the case so it can only be assumed that he is influencing the investigation he heads and the decision of the commissioners.

Prawit is likely to get off. This won’t happen if the junta decides that the damage done exceeds the Big Brother’s usefulness to the junta and its post-“election” plans.