Thai authorities reportedly to conduct mass surveillance of Thai internet users, targeting lèse majesté

Thai authorities reportedly planned to implement a surveillance device starting from 15 September to sniff out Thai Internet users, specifically targeting those producing and reading lèse majesté content, a report says. Although the report is yet to be confirmed, it has created greater climate of fear among media. 
Prachatai has received unconfirmed reports from two different sources. One said the device targets keywords related to lèse majesté and that it is relatively powerful and could access all kinds of communication traffic on the internet. Another source said it could even monitor communications using secured protocols. 
After learning about this, a national level Thai-language newspaper editorial team has reluctantly resorted to a policy of greater self-censorship. Its editor warned editorial staff not to browse any lèse majesté website at work and think twice before reporting any story related to lèse majesté.
Intercepting online communications is illegal under the 2007 Computer Crime Act. Before the coup, the only state agency who was lawfully allowed to do so was the Department of Special Investigation (DSI). If the DSI suspects that information in an email account or in a private communication is related to a crime, it can ask for court approval to hack into the email account or intercept that communication – on a case by case basis.
In 2010 the DSI hacked into the email of Emilio Estaban, who the police identified as an Englishman residing in Spain and found several emails from Thai nationals who sent him lèse majesté links and videos for him to help publish on the now-defunct Stop Lèse Majesté blog on blogspot. This led to three Thai men being charged and jailed for lèse majesté. 
However, one of the Orders of the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), having the status of a law, has made all Thai Internet users vulnerable to mass surveillance. 
NCPO’s Order No. 26/2014, issued on 29 May, entitled “On the control and surveillance of the use of social media”, states that in order to prevent the dissemination of false information on the internet, the Permanent Secretary (of the MICT) can appoint a working group to:
  1. monitor and access the computer traffic, the use of websites, social media, photos, text, video and audio which are deemed to instigate violence and unrest, which are deemed to be unlawful and which violate the NCPO’s Orders.  
  2. have the authority to stop the dissemination of websites, social media, photos, text and audio deemed to be in violation of Paragraph 1 
  3. use the authority granted by law to prosecute wrongdoers and work with the NCPO.
The idea of mass surveillance of Thais is actually not new. In early 2010, the MICT initiated a plan to force all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to install sniffer tools, citing the need to suppress pirated content as the main reason.  
“The monitoring of suspected traffic on the internet network is how we deal with the root cause. This is better than arresting the wrongdoers after the crimes have been committed,” ASTV-Manager online quoted Ajin Jiracheeppattana, then Director of the ICT Industry Promotion Bureau under the MICT, in 2010.  
The issue seemed to backfire on the Ministry after Thai internet users and the media strongly condemned the idea. 
However, it made headlines again in late 2011 when Chalerm Yoobamrung, then Deputy Prime Minister, wanted to boast about the Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration’s seriousness in suppressing offences against the monarchy. Chalerm told the media that the MICT planned to spend 400 million baht to buy a device to “cut the signal of lèse majesté websites.”
On Wednesday, Prachatai tried to reach Thanit Prapatanan, the Director of the Communications Crime Prevention and Suppression, MICT, for an interview but he was not available at press time.