Fri, Oct 02, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Thai official Web sites crash amid censorship protest

AFP, BANGKOK

Several Thai government Web sites temporarily crashed due to a “symbolic act” by people against plans to introduce a single Internet gateway, officials said yesterday, a measure critics say will make it easier for the ruling junta to censor the Web.

A minister stopped short of describing the incident as a cyberattack, but said that it was triggered by those opposed to the proposal, dubbed by some online as the “Great Firewall of Thailand” — a play on China’s Internet censorship program.

The Thai Ministry of Information and Communication Technology’s (ICT) Web site went down for more than two hours on Wednesday evening after it was “overcrowded” by the number of users, ICT deputy permanent secretary Somsak Khaosuwan told reporters.

“There were several other government Web sites which faced similar problems,” he said, adding that access to the sites had been restored by yesterday morning.

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition against plans to introduce a single Internet gateway for Thailand to make it easier to monitor the Web and block content.

By yesterday afternoon, more than 132,000 people had signed a petition on Change.org calling on the Thai government to abandon the proposal, while the state Web sites that had crashed appeared to be running, but more slowly than usual.

At a press conference earlier, ICT Minister Uttama Savannaya said traffic on the ministry’s Web site exceeded capacity, reaching 100,000 on Wednesday, causing it to crash.

“It was a symbolic act by people concerned about the single Internet gateway. We do not think they aimed to attack government Web sites,” he told reporters in Bangkok.

Internet gateways are the points on a network where a nation connects to the World Wide Web.

Initially Thailand’s Internet flowed through a single gateway owned by the government. However, the sector was deregulated in 2006, allowing dozens of companies to open their own access points — resulting in dramatically increased Internet speeds and Thailand emerging as a regional IT hub.

The junta, which seized power in a coup last year, has vowed to expand the nation’s appeal as a hub, unveiling a plan it has dubbed “the digital economy.”

Uttama said yesterday there would be “no limitation of freedom” under the proposal.

“We will not interfere in the use of Internet or social media,” he said.

The minister added that Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led last year’s coup as then-army head, was concerned about some “inappropriate information” accessed by Thais, particularly teenagers.

Since seizing power, Thailand’s generals have ramped up censorship, blocking scores of sites and pursuing online critics with criminal charges and so-called “attitude adjustment” sessions.

Critics of the single Internet gateway plan say it will allow the military to further increase censorship as well as leave the country’s IT hub status vulnerable if the gateway fails.

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