Single internet gateway increases IT capacity and national security: Thai authorities

Thailand’s telecommunication authorities have admitted that a plan to reduce the number of internet gateways down to one is for ‘national security’, but added that it will also boost the country’s IT capacity to compete with other nations.

According to the BBC Thai Service, Col Settapong Malisuwan, President of CAT Telecom under the National Broadcasting Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) and Vice President of the NBTC, on Thursday, 24 September 2015, admitted one of the purposes of implementing the single internet gateway system is to filter information and ‘inappropriate’ online material from overseas.

The Colonel, however, said that the primary purpose is actually to increase the competitiveness of the IT sector in Thailand to provide incentives for private internet operators to connect to the Thai internet gateway instead of those of neighbouring countries, such as Singapore or Malaysia although the IT infrastructure in the country is still lacking.  

He told BBC Thai that instead of calling the system a ‘single gateway’, it should be called a ‘digital hub’. CAT would facilitate the hub and invite internet gateway providers in Thailand, which number about nine in total, to join the hub.

Nonetheless, the CAT President added that national security is also one of the underlying reasons for the plan in order to make it easier for the state to crackdown on cybercrime, saying that even the US has implemented such a system.

At the same time, internet users in Thailand who are against the single internet gateway proposal have come up with a campaign called ‘Resist the Single Gateway’ and are collecting signatures of people who disagree with the proposal on Change.org.

The campaigners claim that cyber privacy would be gravely threatened by the state if the plan materialises.

The group added that the single gateway system would make IT security as a whole much worse because if the system comes under attack and fails, the entire internet system in the country would collapse because there is only one internet gateway.

The cabinet under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, last month gave the green light to the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) and relevant agencies to push ahead with the process to implement a single gateway internet system before the end of the 2015 budget year.

The plan to reduce the number of internet gateways was initially proposed by Pol Gen Somyos Pumpanmuang, the chief of the Royal Thai Police, in June 2015. He reasoned that through a single gateway system, it will be much easier for the state authorities to monitor, filter, delete, and intercept information on the internet that could be deemed inappropriate.

Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of the Thai Netizen Network (TNN), an Internet freedom advocacy group, told Prachatai that the idea to reduce the internet gateways to a single one was proposed only a few days after the 2014 coup d’état by the ex-MICT Permanent Secretary.

He mentioned that the idea was formulated under the logic that Thai people at present use social media inappropriately without control.

“We can see that this sort of idea came together with the coup d’état,” said Arthit.