The Thai government bought one million tablet computers last month to distribute to students across the country. This ambitious “one tablet per child” policy, one of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatras campaign promises, is the largest such program in the world and shows that Bangkok wants to meet the challenge of an Internet-based economy.
But the newly tableted youth will soon discover that Thailand’s Internet is hampered by another challenge: restrictive laws on websites, social networks and search engines.
The 2007 Computer Crimes Act holds online intermediaries web portals and the like liable for illegal content posted by others. The only condition is that these middlemen sites or servers must be shown to have the “intent to spread” the content, but in practice the definition of “intent” in this context is so vague the law can apply to just about anyone. This law is particularly significant in Thailand because other laws, especially the lese-majeste laws prohibiting certain comments about the monarchy, can apply to many kinds of Internet communications.
Thailand has in recent years scared Internet businesses and investors away with several high-profile criminal cases that rely on the Computer Crimes Act. Last week, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, known by her nickname “Jiew,” was convicted for comments that others posted on her popular online newspaper Prachatai which were deemed disrespectful to the monarchy. Not taking down a users comment in a “reasonable” amount of time can be deemed tantamount to promoting it. Because Jiew didnt take one comment down quickly enough, she had broken the Computer Crimes Act.