ICT minister rules out infringement on the right to privacy after online attack on state website
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THE GOVERNMENT has partly retreated from its controversial plan to merge the country’s Internet connections into a single gateway after widespread criticism and heavy pressure from netizens.
Government figures yesterday said the plan was merely in the feasibility-study stage and the pros and cons of the proposal were being weighed.
But they said the plan would no longer be called a single gateway, although they did not say what the new name would be.
Information and Communication Technology Minister Uttama Savanayana said the government would not infringe on the public’s right to privacy and freedom of expression, as it was only reviewing the country’s Internet gateways.
Uttama said it was a misunderstanding that the Cabinet had resolved to have the ICT Ministry adopt a single international Internet gateway for Thailand.
He added that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had earlier instructed the ministry and other relevant agencies to study the concept.
A number of government websites came under a concerted cyber-attack on Wednesday night, when several Internet users launched a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack by refreshing the homepages of agencies repeatedly. The targets included the ICT Ministry, the Internal Security Operations Command, and Government House.
The attack brought down the ICT Ministry website for several hours and severely slowed down other government websites.
Uttama, speaking at a press conference at the ICT Ministry, said its website was inundated with more than 100,000 users on Wednesday, compared with the daily average of some 6,000.
He said he understood that Internet and social-media users were unhappy and wanted to express their disagreement with the single-gateway plan.
At this stage, he said the ministry would not take legal action against the DDoS wrongdoers although such a practice was illegal.
Uttama said the single-gateway concept was the prime minister’s idea as he wanted to ensure that young people who used the Internet were shielded from abuse.
PM’s Office Minister ML Panadda Diskul said Prayut had ordered the feasibility study on the single international gateway, but no green light to implement it had been given yet.
Panadda urged the public, especially Internet and social-media users, to be careful about this issue.
“It is well known that a single gateway may cause, for example, instability of the Internet, which could hurt our economy and investors. We need to be aware of both the pros and cons [of this concept],” he said.
Internal Security Operations Command spokesman Maj-General Banpot Poonpien said the agency’s website was accessible as normal.
Demand for clarity
Pawoot Pongvitayapanu, president of the Thai E-Commerce Association, said it was working with other online-related groups, including the Thai Webmaster Association and the Digital Advertising Association of Thailand, to call for the junta to be clear about this plan.
The groups will make their suggestion to the military’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order, he said.
“Our suggestion is that the government does not need to invest [in the Internet gateway]. It should just allow the private sector to invest,” he said.
“If the government wants to get particular information, it can ask the Internet service providers.”
He said the associations were willing to work with the government on the issue.
Paiboon Amonpinyokeat, an Internet legal expert, said an action that caused a computer system to slow or go out of service was considered illegal according to the Computer Crime Act’s Article 10.
If an action affects a government website and had an impact on others, it is against Article 12 of the act, he said.
He said some people who had joined the campaign against the single gateway might not know that engaging in a DDoS is illegal. They should use other ways to express their stance instead of affecting people trying |to get information and services from a |website.
Suphachai Chearavanont, president of the Telecommunications Association of Thailand, said that if the government was concerned about national security and inappropriate content on the Internet, it could use other measures to tackle that instead of adopting a single gateway.