YouTube unblocked

Thailand has lifted a ban on its citizens accessing the video-sharing website provided it doesn’t allow files that break Thai laws or offend the people.

According to AP, Information and Communication Technology Minister Sitthichai Phokai-udom:

told The Nation [a major newspaper] that YouTube had finished creating a program that would block sensitive video clips from being accessed through Thai Internet service providers.

Thailand takes offences regarding the king seriously — just think of the Swiss man who was jailed for 10 years after he defaced posters with the king’s picture (he was subsquently pardoned and deported). The ban on YouTube came in after a clip was posted showing digitally-altered images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej next to a photo of feet. This is a grave insult in Thailand, as the people believe feet are the lowest and dirtiest part of the body.

I wasn’t able to find the clip in question, but there are many others about the king: some complimentary, some hostile. Watch at your own risk.

The ban raised legitimate questions about freedom of speech. Google, which owns YouTube, has decided not to remove the offensive clips, just ensure they can’t be seen in Thailand, to preserve this right. Freedom of expression is limited in Thailand, particularly since the military began shutting down political websites in the aftermath of the coup. (Ethics is a seperate concern — Thai media regularly shows pictures of people who have committed suicide, complete with smiling police officers next to the body.)

I think it’s fair enough for YouTube to respect Thai laws, though inevitably somebody will come up with a way to circumvent the filters. But where does it end?

We must always remember that Google is a company in search of growth and new markets.

The most blatant example of its working with the authorities is China, where it has modified the search engine to exclude the likes of Tiananmen Square and the Falun Gong movement. China is such a vast and growing market that not making a few compromises would curtail Google’s standing there, thus having a negative impact on its business potential in the country. That’s not to say we have to like what it did. I also have concerns about how much personal data it’s keeping on all of us.

Was Thailand right to have Google develop this filter? Was Google right to give in? Does Thai law need a major overhaul? Have your say in the comments box.

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