On the info crawler lane

Sometimes I wonder when exactly Thailand has decided to jump on the info highway. Or hasn’t it? I am not sure, because on one hand telecom and IT are ubiquitous in daily use, on the other hand nobody seems to care much about it, at least not in the upper ranks of government. Of course, there is one organisation that has always cared about ICT in Thailand, namely the CAT. No, it’s not a feline quadruped but an acronym that stands for “Communication Authority of Thailand”. Behind this rather grandiose name is the wonderful state-run telecom company which owns Thailand’s international communication infrastructure. One of its major achievements was to ensure that general Internet access is twice as expensive as in Europe and America and about five to ten times slower.

The CAT, however, is just one piece in the ICT jigsaw puzzle. There are other players, such as the aptly named TOT (which means “dead” in German), the national company that owns much of the domestic telecom infrastructure. Both organisations have proven their competence by dominating the telecom markets for decades. Of course, this is not too difficult if you are a monopoly. In fact, you could reduce customer service to almost zilch and still dominate the market. Not that I am accusing these highly praised organisations of such a thing. As state-enterprises, they are forced to follow government policies, aren’t they? They are just the pawn of the ICT ministry. Or perhaps it is the other way round? Goodness knows. At least officially, the ministry of ICT (MICT) reigns supremely over said organisations.

The MICT is a fairly young entity. Being established in this millennium, it is certainly younger than the companies it is supposed to control. However, the ministry has quickly gained fame by announcing the privatisation of these companies and then reversing its decision. Rumours that the recently resigned ICT minister has done this on the same day in two different press conferences cannot be confirmed, however. Apart from amazing press announcements, most people know the MICT from blocking websites. Of course, the  MICT’s “McClean” campaign only targets sleazy and illegal websites which are no good anyway, such as youtube.com. Yet it would be unfair to suggest that the MICT’s activity is restricted to blocking websites. Of course they do a lot more.

For example, the ministry has recently established the ICT Usage Promotion Bureau. This bureau stepped into action right away and produced a so-called “Housekeeper CD” which will be distributed freely in Thailand next month. The software on this CD blocks even more websites. It will protect us from what the enlightened bureaucrats consider evil influences. Of course, it’s up to everyone to decide whether to follow the MICTS’s idea of safe Internet usage and install this “Housekeeper”. I can already see throngs of people queuing up to get their hands on the CD. The interesting thing about this case is that one of the first acts of an agency whose mandate is to promote ICT usage is to limit its usage. Quite a remarkable waste of tax money, if you ask me.

Certainly there are more efficient ways to protect unsuspecting citizens from the hazards of ICT usage: Thailand’s so-called cybercrime law, for example, which was passed earlier this year. The new law requires every service provider to keep a record of it’s users Internet usage for 90 days. A “service provider” is by definition everyone who provides an Internet service (quite obviously). This ranges from access providers and Internet cafés to website operators and blog authors. Theoretically, every of these entities is required to keep a log of their user’s full identity including their names. The cybercrime hunters expect service providers to hand over such information to the police upon request. It will be interesting to see how online services, bloggers and forum operators will go about recording their user’s real identities, given that they never see their users. Of course, if the host computer is located outside Thailand, then the crime of not collecting user particulars is not punishable under Thai law. Oh well. Not exactly a boost to the Thai hosting industry, I suppose.

Another interesting aspect of the new law is the “Photoshop clause” which makes it illegal to post an altered image of a person on the Internet if the image damages that person’s reputation. This does of course immediately raise the question, whether it is also illegal to post a non-altered image that damages a person’s reputation, nude photos of the ex-girlfriend, for example. According to the cybercrime law this would be perfectly legal, although it may be expected that the defamation articles of the civil code may be applied in such cases. One can only marvel at the half-baked authoritarian style of the legislation and the stunning absence of any far-sightedness. It makes one ask: “Are you serious?” Unfortunately they are.