The Great Firewall of China is an object of envy for authoritarian leaders everywhere, as it successfully controls the flow of information to and from over one billion people. No wonder, then, that the Thai government is looking to copy China with its own firewall. Tech in Asia reports:
Thailand already makes use of web censorship, but a single point of entry for web traffic will make it a lot easier for the country to set up blocks. With legal changes, it could mean that the government would no longer need to request internet service providers (ISPs) to block a site or take out court orders. Instead, it could mandate ISPs to implement a block with no legal recourse left for either the ISPs or citizens.
It is relatively easy for a government to block access to individual websites, but today’s internet carries much more than website data. From emails to messaging apps, a great deal of internet traffic often has no traditional web address. The Great Firewall blocks some messaging apps and encrypted Virtual Private Networks, in addition to thousands of websites like Bloomberg, the New York Times, and Google’s myriad services.
The Thai government’s move to copy that kind of control is of a piece with its other actions. A year after a coup drew the (empty) denunciation of the United States, the ruling military junta continues to trample on human rights. Just this past Tuesday, for instance, the government blocked the printing of the International New York Times because it featured a cover story about the declining health of Thailand’s 87-year-old king.
This story is not just a cautionary tale about the future of internet freedom worldwide. It also underscores a point we made in February: Loudly chiding illiberal governments is not the best way to soften them. Stern State Department statements have not persuaded Bangkok to back down, and, with this latest effort to enhance their censorship abilities, Thailand’s leaders are making it clear they have every intention of doubling down on their authoritarian ways.