07/07/2017, 18.30
THAILAND
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Government cracks down on the Internet and social media through tighter controls and censorship

The authorities plan to fingerprint and face-scan mobile phone owners as well as set up a social media watch centre to monitor content they deem inappropriate. This follows a press law. Source tells AsiaNews that the country is moving “towards thought control”.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The reform body established by Thailand’s military junta has almost unanimously approved a set of restrictive measures for the use of mobile phones and the Internet, including mandatory fingerprinting and face-scans for every owner of a mobile phone.

On Monday, the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) passed the 84-page set of proposed new rules for online conduct by a vote of 144-to-1.

If adopted by the junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and its appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA), smartphone and internet users are in for some major changes.

The NRSA measures impose stringent restrictions on internet usage, intended in part to identify those who post content on services such as Facebook and YouTube.

The package of wide-ranging measures would make Thai censorship and online restrictions even worse than those of nations like China and Iran that try to tightly control their citizens' access to information.

The proposal would require that all mobile phone numbers be registered with not only users' 13-digit citizen identification numbers - as is already the case - or (for foreigners) passport details, but also their biometric fingerprints and facial recognition data.

Other measures to be taken later include the establishment of a central social media watch centre to look for content considered inappropriate by the government.

The changes would upgrade the technology used to intercept internet communications.  The government already has several offices engaged in monitoring online activity and also encourages members of the public to report material considered offensive.

Ostensibly, the major target of the authorities is lèse majesté offences, but since seizing power in 2014, the ruling junta has in practice criminalised political dissent and criticism of its actions.

The expanded censorship proposals follow earlier NRSA plans to set up an appointed council to regulate print and online media. It would require journalists to be licensed or risk prison.

Thai media organisations have urged its rejection, noting that its definition of who needs a licence is too broad and it restricts freedom of expression.

Sources told AsiaNews that the new rules “have sparked a major controversy in Thailand.” They “legitimise censorship and government control, which were already present but had no legal basis yet. For Thai society, the future seems one of more and tighter controls.

“The first anniversary of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is fast approaching. The country, which is still in mourning, is getting ready to mark the event.

“The heir to the throne, who has recently approved a new militarist constitution, is not as popular as his late father. This complicates an already delicate political situation. The military regime wants to restrict Thais’ ability to criticise the government.

“The authorities justify the new rules, including those against mass media, by the need to fight the proliferation of false news and defend the morals of the Thai people. In reality, this is not the case. We are moving instead towards thought control."

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