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5 Internet Politics in Thailand after the 2006 Coup Regulation by Code and a Contested Ideological Terrain Pirongrong Ramasoota In 2009, Thailand joined the rank of “a new enemy of the Internet,” according to Reporters Without Borders.1 This status is ironic, given the fact that the country’s name means “land of the free” in Thai. This development marked a significant regress from a decade earlier when there was no cyber law and no regulator, only open Internet architecture and freedom as the central norm among first-generation Thai Internet users. Despite economic doldrums that followed a financial meltdown in 1997, freedom of expression and freedom of information in Thailand were markedly stable in the late 1990s.2 The Thai Internet regulatory landscape gradually shifted, however, first with the establishment of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT)3 in 2002, which introduced the first Internet filtering policy, and later with the passing of the computer crime law in 2007, following the September 2006 military coup that overthrew the country’s longest-ruling civilian administration in modern Thai history. The period following the 2006 coup saw Thai politics bitterly divided between two opposing camps: red-shirted supporters4 of the self-exiled former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from power on charges of corruption and for disloyalty to the crown; and those who back the country’s “network monarchy”5 — a loose alliance of the palace, the military, the ruling Democrat Party, and the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), or the “yellow shirts.”6 This contest has also exhibited itself in the online sphere as powerful members of the network monarchy exercised control over Internet communication to maintain political stability while red-shirt dissidents and their supporters evaded and resisted the control through circumvention and online civic mobilization. Notably, the new computer crime law has been a potent force in constraining the behavior of Internet users as well as service providers through the new regulatory framework it imposes. In the postcoup years, the lèse-majesté offense—insulting the monarchy—has also been increasingly used to charge anyone writing or posting material deemed to be defamatory of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej or the royal family, and in blocking Internet content or shutting down Web sites. 84 Pirongrong Ramasoota In Codes and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lawrence Lessig notes that four major regulatory elements are at play in Internet regulation—social norms, markets, technology (what he calls architecture), and law. Each of these elements, he argues, can directly limit individuals’ actions in cyberspace through the different type of constraint each imposes, or they may work in combinations to constitute the “code” that regulates Internet users’ behavior, that is, “regulation by code.”7 Norms constrain through the stigma that a community imposes; markets constrain through the price they exact; architecture constrains through the physical burdens it imposes; and law constrains through the punishment it threatens. Lessig emphasizes that architecture is the most sensible and influential modality of regulation. Nevertheless, he also notes that law can also change the regulation of architecture, especially when architecture (how the network is built and designed) is changed in order to realize a particular social end. To extend Lessig’s notion of regulation by code a bit further, a classical Marxist theory of ruling ideology is relevant if one considers the Internet beyond its role as conduit technology and thinks more deeply about its content and communication dimensions. In Internet-restrictive countries, “code” writers tend to shape the Internet as a means to promote a certain set of views and ideas—the ideology of the ruling class—and to exclude alternative or opposition ideas or views. Drawing on this theoretical framework, this chapter examines the recent evolution of Internet filtering in Thailand, focusing in particular on the period following the September 19, 2006, coup and on the regulation of political content and communication . I address two main questions: (1) What are the major regulatory modalities in the Thai Internet filtering regime in the post-2006-coup era, and what are their major consequences for Internet stakeholders? (2) What are the reactions from civil society, and what mechanisms for addressing Internet filtering issues have emerged in Thailand? The study relies on extensive analysis of laws and related policies, as well as indepth interviews with stakeholders, policymakers, regulators, and members of civil society related to Internet regulation in Thailand. The discussion shows how the Internet in Thailand has turned into a contested...


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