Censorship in Thailand: Protect Yourself Against Surveillance

Thailand circle flag icon on a laptop with router next to it, behind bars
Click here for an overview of censorship in Thailand
Censorship in Thailand: A Short Summary

The government of Thailand does not allow for any political criticism of the royal family or the Thai regime. In the wake of the 2019 elections, the military has increased its use of force and incarceration against those who oppose the authorities.

Other methods of censorship in Thailand are:

  • A ban on any anti-government coverage by independent media
  • Blocking webpages and political blogs
  • Social media censorship
  • Increased surveillance of internet use

Many journalists, activists, and individual users wish to circumvent censorship and be better protected against government surveillance. Using a VPN, like NordVPN, can help you get your online freedom back.

If you want to know more about the types of censorship Thailand uses, as well as which VPNs are best suited for Thailand, you can read the full article below.

Thailand is a country that experiences a lot of political instability. Freedom House classifies it as “not free” in their Freedom in the World index. Although freedom of speech is officially guaranteed by the 1997 Constitution, the Thai government imposes strict censorship on it. From severe punishment for insult to the monarchy to growing mass surveillance, freedom of expression and other human rights are increasingly compromised.

If you wish to be better protected online or get access to censored content, you might want to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This is not only a great tool for journalists and activists, but also for individual users who want to increase their privacy.

This article will explain what censorship in Thailand looks like and how you can get around it.

Censorship in Thailand: A Recent History

Before the coup d’état of 2006, censorship was mostly aimed at pornographic content. Year by year, however, restrictions are growing, both online and offline. This has drastically changed the country’s digital economy and society. The free press faces overwhelming limitations on what they can and cannot publish and more than 140,000 websites have been blocked by the Cyber Security Operation Center.

The government of Thailand already used intimidation, censorship, and legal threats against those who expressed disagreeable opinions or posed a threat to national security. In the wake of the 2019 elections, when the opposition against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gained a lot of support, the government tightened its draconian rule even further, blocking any content deemed critical of the regime.

Increased surveillance to stop protests

Increased surveillance icon

Today, police forces and the military junta continue to crack down on democratic reform protests with brutal means. The Royal Thai Police can often operate with complete impunity, which puts many human rights at risk of violation.

Next to martial law, the Internal Security Act has been updated to respond to more advanced information and communication technology. Cybersecurity has been tightened. Those who dare to speak out on social media platforms can face a prison sentence of up to 40 years.

The Thai National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has ordered media outlets to stop showing any content related to the protests. Even foreign news outlets such as the BBC have come under attack for expressing critical views of the regime.

Those who travel to Thailand — bloggers, expats, digital nomads — can get in significant trouble, too. Online discussion is silenced quickly and arrests are made for even minor offenses. In December 2021, Thailand updated its Computer Crime Act (CCA), which limits the already-deteriorating online freedom. The Electronic Frontier Foundation expresses clear concern about the sacrifice of open information and the negative effects on the digital economy and society.

Why limit freedom of speech? Lèse-Majesté Law explained

Bird cage open, text cloud icon breaks freePolitical tensions have been running high in Thailand for a few decades. The country is a constitutional monarchy, ruled by King Maha Vajiralongkorn (also known as Rama X). As head of state, the king has limited formal power. But with an iron grip on the military junta, his influence is immense.

One method to keep the king so revered is their strict lèse-majesté law, which is meant to keep the royal family protected. Under Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, anyone who “defames, insults, or threatens” any member of the monarchy will be sentenced to a jail term between three and fifteen years.

The problem with the lèse-majesté law is that the parameters for what is considered criticism are vague. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — a covenant Thailand acceded to — makes imprisonment for exercising the right to freedom of expression illegal. Even so, the Thai authorities make it almost impossible to defend oneself against claims of defamation.

With the threat of a prison sentence hanging overhead, open discussion has been made incredibly difficult. The section below will outline what other content suffers from censorship.

What Kind of Content is Censored in Thailand?

Censorship is generally used as a tool to block any material that can be considered harmful, objectionable, or illegal. When employed by government agencies, however, it is also an oppressive tool to keep the population of a country under control.

In Thailand, a large part of the national broadcasting and telecommunications industry is in the hands of the state. As a result, online censorship heavily restricts public communication, the free flow of information, and the free expression of opinion. This affects various parts of society.

Infographic showing what kind of content is censored in Thailand

Political websites and discussion boards

Any content that openly critiques the Thai government or the monarchy will be blocked. Specific examples include the Thai activist group 19 September Network against Coup d’Etat and internet discussion groups such as Midnight University, Prachatai.com, and Pantip.com. These platforms would all supposedly threaten national security.

Digital archives such as WaybackMachine and Internet Archive, where lost articles can be saved and read back, have also been blocked.

Social media

Certain Twitter accounts and Facebook pages that express anti-government views are shut down or restricted. On 29 April 2010, Wipas Raksakulthai was arrested for allegedly insulting the then King Bhumibol. Amnesty International subsequently named him a prisoner of conscience.

Similarly, a Facebook page called “Royalist Marketplace” was created to discuss the Thai monarchy freely. The page, accumulating around one million users, was shut down, with the creator facing cybercrime charges.

International media

Censorship does not only affect the national broadcasting and telecommunications industry. External international media, such as BBC, CNN, and Yahoo! News are also being blocked for reporting on Thailand’s political situation.

Video-sharing services

For video-sharing service providers such as YouTube, Metacafe, and Camfrog, the claim for online censorship is often “indecent behavior.” YouTube has been blocked several times. Between April 4 and August 31, 2007, the tech giant was completely banned, due to a video considered offensive to the Thai monarchy. The block persisted for nearly five months, despite the fact that the video in question was deleted voluntarily by the user who uploaded it.

Broadcasting media

Radio stations must be government-licensed and are often run by the Thai military junta and other Thai authorities. Even so, stations have been blocked. In 1993, the military shut down an army-owned radio broadcast for criticism of the armed forces.

When it comes to television broadcasting media, there is an effective ban on critical views, pro-democracy coverage, and political activism. Besides politics, any depiction of (semi-)nudity, weapons pointed at people, and consumption of alcohol will be blacked out, blurred, or not shown at all.

Pornographic websites

Despite the fact that Thailand has a globally-known sex industry, pornography is considered illegal. About 190 service providers that feature pornographic content are banned under the CCA. The Thai government claims the websites encourage poor moral standpoints. Industry giant Pornhub has pushed back against the ban.

Casinos and gambling

In Thailand’s neighbor countries Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore, gambling has been made legal in recent years. Thailand, however, sticks to its Gambling Act from 1935, which bans any form of gambling, online or offline, with the exception of the state lottery and state-licensed horse races.

How Does the Thai Government Censor the Internet?

In Thailand, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society is the governmental body that oversees the internet. During the past decade, they have employed several methods to keep the internet restricted.

Infographic showing how does the Thai government censor the internet

Internet Service Providers

CAT Telecom Public Company Limited and TOT Public Company Limited are two of Thailand’s biggest telecommunications companies. They’re both state-owned and therefore under the strong influence of the Thai authorities. Powerful families that belong to the pro-government business elite hold esteemed positions in these telecom companies. It’s an excellent mechanism to enforce censorship.

When it comes to commercial and non-profit Internet Service Providers (IPSs), the Ministry also yields an iron fist. If they want to block any content, they request these ISPs to do so. Those providers who fail to comply will be sanctioned. They can lose their operating license or suffer bandwidth throttling. Bandwidth throttling refers to limitations that can be put on the data speed of a network.

Social media bans

In 2020, the number of social media users in Thailand was around 52 million. This number is expected to grow to 60 million by 2026. Under Article 14(1) of the Computer Crime Act, any content that is deemed “forged,” “false,” or has the potential to “cause damage to a third party” can be taken down.

What’s worse is that individual users can face fines of up to 100,000 Thai Baht (USD 3038) and a prison sentence of up to five years. After a 2017 amendment, any information that can be considered a threat to national security or public interest will be censored, resulting in social media bans and incarceration for users across different online media services. This also goes for those who speak out against the lèse-majesté law.

Blacklisting domains

Beyond social media bans, the Thai authorities often blacklist web domains of similar dissent. Through DNS hijacking, the Thai government can redirect internet users visiting a blacklisted domain to a government-authorized website instead.

The Thai government has also approached search engine giants such as Google and Yahoo! about keyword search blocking. Google has stated that they have no intention to block certain keywords in Thailand.

Surveillance

The constitution of Thailand grants citizens the right to privacy. However, following the 2014 coup d’état, an interim constitution was created, which almost entirely suspends the right to privacy. In addition, under a mask of upholding national security, personal data is very poorly protected in Thailand. Articles 18(2) and 18(3) of the Computer Crime Act allow the Thai authorities access to user-related and traffic data without a court order. With a court order, state authorities are even allowed to decrypt encoded data.

In 2015, leaked emails revealed that the Royal Thai Army and the Royal Thai Police has spent over 500,000 dollars to purchase a surveillance program called Remote Control System. This program is specifically used to monitor internet communications, evade encryption, and collect data.

In a training program called Cyber Scout, students were recruited by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of ICT to report on online content that could be considered anti-government or anti-monarchy. When it comes to the protection of basic human rights, international organizations have expressed concern.

How to Get Around Censorship

Get around censorship iconConsidering the political unrest and heavy surveillance, you might be looking for ways to better protect your identity online. This is important for human rights activists and journalists, but also for individual users whose blogs or social media accounts might get banned.

There are a couple of ways you can push back against censorship in Thailand:

  • Don’t use your real identity online. Rather take on a pseudonym or a fake identity. This will make it more difficult for others to track you.
  • Encrypt your digital activities by using a VPN. A VPN hides your true IP address in favor of an encrypted connection that makes it difficult for companies or institutions to track you. Below we list some options for a good VPN.
  • Connect to the Tor network. The Tor network uses multi-layered encryption and makes it difficult for anyone to track its users. It also supports chat applications that might be blocked by a VPN or proxy.
  • Use a secure email service provider, such as ProtonMail or any of the other private email providers we recommend.

It is important to proceed with caution, even when using any of these protective measurements. These are great ways to protect yourself online and gain access to a more open internet, but this doesn’t come without risk. Any activity that goes against Thai law, will still be considered illegal in Thailand, even when using a VPN. We urge you to put your own safety first, always.

VPN shield icon on a dark laptop In most countries, using a VPN is legal. As for Thailand, using a VPN is not explicitly prohibited under the Computer Crime Act. However, surveillance methods in Thailand are strict. If you’re using your VPN to bypass certain government blocks, it might be possible that government spyware will pick up on this. Similarly, accessing pornography websites or partaking in online gambling is strictly forbidden in Thailand. Using a VPN doesn’t change this.

Still, VPNs keep you safer than non-encrypted connections. You are better protected against cybercrime, ISPs can’t automatically track your data, and you can log into your online bank accounts with more security.

Best VPNs for Thailand

Best VPNs for Thailand icon, VPN shield icon with trophy and Thailand flagVPNs are the best and easiest way to get access to the internet in countries with high levels of censorship. They’re better than, for example, a proxy server, since they actually add a level of security to your online experience. But how do you know which VPN provider to choose?

There are so many services out there — and so many things to take into account when picking one. Here are some of our takeaways when it comes to choosing a VPN for Thailand:

  • Make sure your VPN has solid security features. When trying to access the internet from Thailand, your own safety is the most important thing. That’s why security features that allow you to enjoy your online freedom in private are essential.
  • Get a VPN with servers in or close to Thailand. If you’re looking for ways to access local streaming service providers such as True Visions, a Thai VPN will allow you to do that. If you want to circumvent censorship, you can connect to any of the other servers, but a server close to your location will likely help you maintain your internet speed.
  • Don’t use a free VPN. Free VPNs might be appealing, but they come with more limitations and risks. They tend to have slower speeds and a limited amount of servers, with very few providers offering servers in or close to Thailand. Additionally, they are more vulnerable to malware, which can mine your data. If you’d like to use a free service anyway, you can find a few trustworthy free VPN suggestions here.

Based on these considerations, we recommend the following premium VPN providers for Thailand:

1. NordVPN: Optimal security for online freedom in Thailand

Screenshot of NordVPN provider website with added logo in the corner

NordVPN offers you more than 5000 servers in 60 countries, including multiple servers in Thailand. Their privacy features are great: NordVPN uses 256-bit AES encryption, which is considered military-grade, and offers DNS leak protection as well as a kill switch. Their no-logs policy ensures that your data can’t be tracked. In other words, NordVPN will enable you to get back your online freedom in Thailand, without anyone peeking over your shoulder.

The NordVPN apps are user-friendly and available for download for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. With Nord’s lengthy money-back guarantee, you can even try out it for free for 30 days.

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2. Surfshark: High speeds for a cheap price

Surfshark website homepage

Surfshark is a more affordable option in comparison to NordVPN, yet it offers excellent protection. It is a very user-friendly provider with over 3000 servers in 65 countries, including servers in Thailand (Bangkok). Surfshark uses 256-bit AES encryption, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch, so you’ll be safe and hidden online, even when your VPN temporarily disconnects.

They offer great unblocking services, unlimited bandwidth, and the opportunity to simultaneously connect as many devices as you like. The latter is especially useful: for a small price, you’ll be able to protect all your devices (whether it’s your desktop, phone, laptop, or even your Android TV) as well as all of the devices of your friends and family.

If you’d like to try out Surfshark, you can use their 30-day money-back guarantee to do so.

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3. ExpressVPN: A no-nonsense VPN for Thailand

Screenshot of ExpressVPN provider website homepage

ExpressVPN is a VPN with a very simple and user-friendly interface. It is most well-known for its stable connections, offering you a pleasant internet experience. The security features are similar to those with Surfshark and NordVPN, but no less impressive. With 256-bit AES encryption, a network lock kill switch, and a strict no-logs policy, ExpressVPN protects your identity well.

There are 3000 servers to choose from in over 90 countries, including Thailand. ExpressVPN has apps that work in Thai and you can reach the ExpressVPN support service 24/7. If you want to try it out, ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

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Final Thoughts

For many years, freedom of speech and media freedom have not been human rights granted to the population of Thailand. The Thai authorities use a variety of methods, including censorship, intimidation, and imprisonment to keep any opposition to the regime at bay. Under lèse-majesté law, any criticism of the king or the royal family is met with harsh penalties, including incarceration.

This has had disastrous consequences for the independent media. All coverage of democratic reform protests has been forbidden or heavily censored. Moreover, various online media services like web pages, social media accounts, and blogs by individual users are monitored and restricted.

Many journalists, political activists, and social media users are looking for ways to protect their identity and right of free expression. In online spaces, using a VPN can offer significant protection.

If you want to read more about censorship and limits to freedom of speech in different countries, check out the following articles:

Censorship in Thailand: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have questions about censorship in Thailand and what it means for you? Check out our frequently asked questions below.

Yes, Thailand censors the internet. The Computer Crime Act in Thailand prohibits any content that can be considered a threat to national security or public interest. This means that websites and social media platforms that showcase content critical of the Thai regime, can and will often be blocked. Read our article on Thai censorship for more information.

No. While freedom of speech is a right that is solidified in the Thai constitution, people are not always free to speak their minds. Those who express negative views of the Thai royal family will be punished. Media are often only allowed to cover pro-government views. If people fail to comply, they can get fined, fired, and even imprisoned. Public protest against this type of rule is growing, but the military junta and police forces tend to respond with force.

VPNs are not prohibited in Thailand, but it can be a risk to use them in a country with such high levels of censorship. Certain online activities, such as gambling and pornography, are considered illegal in Thailand. A VPN can allow you to access more websites and content, but you should always make sure of your own safety, first.

International Censorship & Security Journalist
Lauren Mak is an internal censorship and security-focused journalist with a keen eye for how technology affects society. With a background in International Relations and North American Studies, Lauren brings a unique perspective to the VPNOverview team. Lauren has a passion for helping others understand the importance of privacy, freedom, and internet safety and brings that passion to VPNOverview.