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Internet users spooked as "glitch" temporarily blocks Google, other sites; government expands efforts to block web content that insults monarchy or threatens national security

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Internet users in Thailand reported sporadic blocking of popular websites on 11 April 2007, as the country's Ministry of Information Communication and Technology (MICT) widened its efforts to limit access to websites with content deemed insulting to the monarchy and threatening to national security.

One week after ordering a ban on the popular video-sharing website YouTube (see IFEX alerts of 12 and 4 April 2007), some web surfers in Thailand, including contacts and staff members of SEAPA, on 11 April intermittently found official MICT "blocked-page announcements" diverting access from such sites as Google.com, Amazon.com, and the start page of Blogspot.com. Most complaints received by SEAPA - which were exclusively from subscribers of TRUE Corp. broadband Internet, one of the largest providers in Thailand - came in the afternoon and early evening, and access for all the above sites seemed to have returned to normal by that evening. The MICT block page appeared on the screen when some people tried to access the above sites, bearing the same message: that the website being blocked contained "inappropriate" information.

TRUE said the blockage of the popular sites was caused by technical errors as its technicians and servers tried to block other sites that MICT did have on a watch list.

The government has officially banned YouTube and has ordered a handful of political websites and chat rooms to suspend some discussions, but its blocklist supposedly does not cover such sites as Google. A TRUE officer, who asked not to be named, said "the glitch may have been caused by attempts to block Internet gateways in other service providers, but not by us." TRUE has it own gateway, but also shares some traffic with the Communication Authority of Thailand (CAT), a public telecom service provider that controls the main Internet gateway in Thailand.

There is no official word from MICT about the 11 April episodes that spooked Thai web users.

"The MICT order comes on a daily basis and for that we have to stay alert. We even have to post staff on 24-hour shifts during this weekend's Songkran (Thai New Year) holidays to take instruction from the MICT," said the TRUE officer.

Meanwhile, Thailand's popular political chat room, Ratchadamnoen, which was closed down on 8 April, resumed operation the same day that TRUE users reported problems (see alerts of 12 and 9 April 2007). The lifting of its suspension came after Ratchadamnoen's webmaster promised to be more diligent in screening comments posted in the chat room.

Information and Communications Technology Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom said MICT would continue to tolerate critical views and comments about the government and the military, but only if they are expressed "in good faith".

Sitthichai is planning a trip to the United States to hold talks with the management of YouTube.com.

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