BANGKOK — Six days before online dissidents threaten escalated attacks on government web servers, Thailand’s military government insists it is impossible to meet their demands.
A government spokesman today repeated that the project to route all internet traffic through a single point of control cannot be rescinded – as online activists demand – because it was never authorized in the first place.
“I insist the prime minister has never ordered the single gateway to be implemented,” Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. “It was only mentioned as an interesting example for discussion. There were also other topics that were talked about but never put on the record.”
Since Oct. 2, those organized online against the project have insisted the government capitulate by issuing a cabinet resolution canceling plans for the project to funnel all IP traffic through a single gateway. They point to a series of legally binding resolutions issued since June 30 which authorized the project and urged responsible agencies to “speed up” its implementation.
If that doesn’t happen, they have vowed to take down government web services, as they succeeded doing in a coordinated, crude attack on Sept. 30. A number of agencies’ services failed after they were overwhelmed by users reloading the sites in their browsers.
The response from a chorus of officials has been equally intransigent. From the top down, they have denied the project ever got past the “concept” phase. On Tuesday the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand said the government telecommunications ministry backed out of a discussion panel at because it would not discuss the issue.
Over the past weekend, however, someone did remove from the cabinet’s site the first of four resolutions related to the project. It defined the project’s purpose in no uncertain terms: “to control inappropriate websites, and flow of news and information from overseas through the internet.”
Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha today cast blame on the unnamed staff member responsible for typing cabinet minutes and resolutions for possibly “misleading society.”
He said the cabinet only discussed how to protect the internet from threats in keeping with the law and without infringing on human rights.
“Do we still have a problem? Students can access porn photos all they want. What should we do about this?” he was quoted saying in Prachachat. “Not that I mean the single gateway can solve all problems.”
He told reporters to stop asking him about the issue.
None of this has cooled the rage online, where the frenzied internet crowd describes the government’s response as “empty words.” Activists, many anonymous, call for taking down more government functions Oct. 14.
“When they don’t know how to end the #SingleGateway story, it’s bad luck for the small person blamed for making a mistake in taking cabinet meeting notes,” wrote the anonymous author of politically charged Facebook page The Prophet. “The question is how can it be a mistake when apparently the document showed it was ordered four or five times. Would it be possible that the staff misunderstood what was said every time?”
Legal Consequences Threatened
Maj. Gen. Rittee Intravudh, director of the army’s cyber unit has said his team was collecting IP addresses from recent attacks to track users for possible prosecution under the Computer Crime Act.
Were investigators able to somehow separate innocuous web traffic from hostile web traffic, they could seek prosecution under the act.
Although activists such as Arthit Suriyawongkul of the Thai Netizen Network liken the online campaign to virtual civil disobedience, a law professor at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce was not sure that would protect anyone from prosecution.
Jompon Pitaksantayothin wrote last week their actions might considered illegal under the law if someone accessed the site with intent to disturb the system.
“A virtual sit-in might be illegal, but we have to remember that it is also a social movement for voicing one’s opinion against public policy that affects them,” the law lecturer wrote. “… We can also say it is a confrontation between the letter of the law and social legitimacy.”
Jompon said the government’s refusal to openly discuss the issue and take input from the people is the main cause for netizens, young or old, to join the opposition and take action to protect their shared interests.
It’s different from the offline protests the government can move to quash any time, Jompon said:
“No one has absolute power in cyberspace.”