Online censorship ‘reloaded’

Editor’s Note : The Article below is an English variety of the one that has been published in Korean, added more quotes and comments. To read original article in Korean, click here

All Rights Reserved © Lee Yu Kyung 2015

Thai government has seemed planning a new censorship project called Single Gateway. After the covert plan accidently revealed by a tweet, outcry among online community particularly game community has been escalating. The community and citizens have launched DDoS attack on government websites, demanding complete nullification of Single Gateway.                                            

“I am a gamer not because I don’t have a life, but because I choose to have many”

Thai gamer Prawut (pseudonym) calls cyber world “our house”, where he can choose plural lives. Recently he’s been on Cyber Warfare against a powerful enemy, that is the Thai military government. The Junta seems to have obsessed with censorship since it seized power in a coup last year. Citizens have haunted by intimidation ‘on and off’. The new project named ‘Single Gateway’, which was accidently revealed, could be a strong tool of intimidating online. It has prompted Prawut to set up Facebook page employing “F5” – ‘reloading’ or ‘refreshing’ – on its name. More than 20,000 users have liked the page. They are now ‘Citizens opposing Single Gateway Internet Firewall’, or ‘F5 Cyber Warriors’.

Revelation of Single Gateway is dating to September 22, when a tweeter user (@Sik***u) tweeted something that Prawut has to worry about.

“Thai cabinet wants MICT to create a Single Gateway for Thailand to block access to sites and control information flow”

MICT, or Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, has been on the frontline for censorship operation in Thailand. The tweet has embedded a URL from the website of Public Relation Department. The link has shown the government’s plan of Single Gateway, but has disappeared shortly indicating that the government quietly, if not covertly, has been framing it out. Unless the sharp-eyed tweeter revealed it, the post may have remained unrecognized.

Revelation of the Juntas censorship project

: ‘Citizens opposing Single Gateway Internet Firewall’, or ‘F5 Cyber Warriors’. (Photo : Factbook)

: ‘Citizens opposing Single Gateway Internet Firewall’, or ‘F5 Cyber Warriors’. (Photo : Factbook)

According to various reports, Single Gateway has become a Cabinet agenda since June 30. On July 14, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Char reportedly ordered “urgent implementation” of the plan. Cabinet resolution on the plan was tabled again on August 4. MICT and other relevant authorities were ordered to follow up on progress and report to Prime Minister on August 27, when cabinet resolution has explicitly stated the project’s purpose : “To control inappropriate website and information flow from abroad”. Then the project has been reportedly endorsed by the Cabinet on September 1st. No official announcement has been made, however, nor any attention caught, until September 22 when the first tweet appeared.

The notion of Single Gateway has never been officially defined. But there is common interpretation that government aims total control over internet traffic through state-commanding ISP. This would enable the government to filter ‘undesirable’ information, particularly those flowed in from abroad let alone domestic contents.

Interestingly, it was game community who opposed it most at first. According to Statista, – the website specialized in various statistic, there are some 9,9 million gamers in Thailand which amount to more than ‘one in six’ of Thailand’s 67 million population. They have become leading forces of resistance against the Junta’s new breed of censorship. The gamer Prawut, who’s been at the center of Cyber Warfare, defines this war as “war between dictatorship and online community”

“We will continue our attack until the government would issue written resolution stating complete cancellation of the project” He wrote in a messenger interview with this writer. “Just for a short and simple word, Freedom” He emphasized. “We think that online is where freedom is left. It’s the last space in this country” he added.

What impact would Single Gateway bring to gamers then? I asked.

“It will create bottleneck in online system. Information will be difficult to flow. It means..” he continued “gamers in Thailand will be doomed”. “There will be no future for us to compete with anyone in the world”

According to Prawut, ‘Cyber Warriors’ of his Facebook page are “gamers, students using internet, online merchants and ordinary citizens who came together to oppose the project”

Experts warned that Single Gateway would cause serious technical hurdle slowing down the internet speed. This must affect numerous micro online businesses. In fact, none of businesses can sustain without online facility in the digital era, particularly in metropolitan city such as Bangkok. This is probably why the Thai government has promoted ‘digital hub’ or ‘digital economy’.

“It ‘s totally opposite of digital hub” said Supinya Klangnarong, commissioner of National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Committee (or NBTC) at the panel discussion organized by Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (or FCCT) on October 7. “Around 17 telecommunication companies got licenses for 15-20 years. Single gateway would be nightmare, impossible” she said. “I understand concept behind this, (there’s) another agenda” she added.

‘Another agenda’, so has resistance begun.

It began with a petition campaign. Petition has aimed 200,000 and reached over 150,000 within two weeks. Next? it was DDoS attack. ‘F5 Cyber activists’ has conducted its first attack on September 30 on pre-announced targets. The list includes MICT, Government House, Defense Ministry and ISOC. The websites of the targets had been indeed down, and still disturbed next day.

타이 군정은 그동안 ‘싱글게이트웨이’ 프로젝트를 부인해왔다. 그러다 10월20일 군정 실세로 알려진 국방부 장관 쁘라윗 웡수완은 ‘온라인 반정부 세력’ 색출을 위한 ‘검열부대’를 구성하겠다고 말했다. 이 검열 안은 얼마 전 한 네티즌의 예리한 지적으로 발견된 201쪽에 달하는 군정보국의 내부보고서에도 잘 반영돼 있다. 사진은 보고서 130쪽에 실린 이미지

The 201 pages of Army Intelligence Report has contained censorship plan. Page 130 (photo) shows ‘Army Cyber Center’, which seems consistent with ‘Cyberwar unit’ announced by the Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

Cyber attack on government sites  

Censorship in Thailand under the military government has become alarming.

Yingcheep Atchanot, project manager of Internet Diologue on Law Reform (or iLaw), explained that  Martial Law section 9 authorizes to inspect message, letter, telegraph, package, parcel or other things transmitting within the area under the Martial law. “No limitation of time period. No requirement of court warrant” he said at the FCCT discussion. The Martial law has been replaced by Section 44 last April, which is said to be worse than Martial Law. It gives Prime Minister unlimited power to any order “for the sake of the reforms in any field,..the prevention or suppression of any act detrimental to national order or security, royal throne, national economy or public administration…”

Yet, the Junta has had difficulty to wield unlimited power when it comes to cyber world.

According to iLaw, “minimum evidence the authorities need before arrest someone (related online crime)” are three ; IP address from website administrator, name and house address of the IP address owner from Internet Service Provider (or ISP), and evidence in the computer of suspects. Thus, it’s essential that authority needs ‘cooperation’ from Internet Server Provider.

“It might be difficult to control when there are multiple ISPs” said iLaw’s Atchanot. He also said some 100,000 URLs have been blocked for lese majeste contents since 2014 coup. Many of them were foreign site.

One of the Thailand’s English daily <The Nation> has recently reported that the country has 3,400 Facebook users – the highest in the region. ‘2 hours and 35 minutes per day’ is another record for daily use of Facebook. This is higher than the world average. If Single Gateway would be enforced, information on Facebook and other SNS – many of them are from abroad- would be under government staunch watch eye, while small businesses utilizing Facebook would be affected.

Prime Minister Prayuth has denied Single Gateway was a Cabinet resolution. On October 9, for instance, he has mentioned of Single Gateway on his regular program ‘Returning Happyness to the People’. He said “just a matter under discussion”  “but it was leaked and publicized” He went on to say something unusual. “We have to respect human rights and this has to be in line with the law. If it’s possible then go (Single Gateway)” he said. “But if it is against the law and violation of human rights, then it cannot be done”

However, ‘F5 Cyber warriors’ did not believe in PM’s words. They put second deadline to officially cancel it instead. Otherwise, another resistance would start, they warned. The deadline was 23:30 on October 14. Around 23:10 of the day, 20 minutes before the deadline, suggestion has been posted ; ‘attack the site of Ministry of Foreign Affairs’, MFA site got downed even before the deadline. MITC site was followed to be down. Subsequently, ‘F5 Cyber Warriors’ have vowed to upgrad its cyber war, demanding “all of officials who have planned Single Gateway to resign”.  They also have demanded Prime Minister has to stop abuse Section 44 power to arrest anti government dissents.

Do not defame the nation and government  PM Prayuth   

The state-owned telecommunication company CAT was hacked by Anonymous on October 22.

The state-owned telecommunication company CAT was hacked by Anonymous on October 22.

On October 19, another Friday with “Returning Happyness” has begun. In the program, Prime Minister Prayuth has nearly reversed what he said 10 days ago.

“If you say we should not have the single gateway, can you prevent your group from writing things that defame the nation and government?” he said.

“If you can’t, then don’t tell me what method should be used”.

This was also a reverse of what deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak has said days ago. Somkid, in an economic forum, has reportedly “we will not talk about this – Single Gateway – anymore. If we say we won’t do it, we won’t do it”. Reuters picked it up titling its report “Thailand scraps unpopular Internet ‘Great Firewall’ plan”. The report has failed to predict PM’s reverse.

By now, Prawut and his Cyber Warriors have declared full scale of Cyber War which will start from 10 am on October 22. The government owned telecommunication CAT, the most cooperative one for Single Gateway, was hacked on the day. ‘Anonymous’ has displayed the hacked picture on its tweet. It is speculated that international hacking group has done it, or perhaps cooperative operation of ‘F5 Cyber Warriors’ and international hacking group. Whatever it is, all anonymous. Days before this attack, Prawut has clarified their Cyber Warfare, “This is a real war, not a game”

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