Despite leak, Thai PM denies spyware use

Despite leak, Thai PM denies spyware use
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha.
PHOTO: AFP

PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha has denied the military uses surveillance software to spy on citizens' computers and mobile devices following reports of multiple purchases of such software from Hacking Team Co, a firm in Italy.

The Royal Thai Army, National Police Bureau and the Department of Corrections were named as Thai customers of Hacking Team, whose computers were hacked by WikiLeaks and data posted on the Internet.

The data showed details of the firm's customers worldwide which reportedly included many foreign governments.

Regarding the Thai government, there were reportedly over 100 emails between the Army and Hacking Team concerning the procurement of surveillance software.

Prayut said he had no idea about the data leak in which the Thai Army was alleged to have bought the software in 2014 while he was Army commander-in-chief.

"It's up to you whether to believe the leakers, but I know that Wikileaks has faced many lawsuits. I can confirm that there is no attempt to access any personal data illegally. If you have not committed any wrongdoing, don't worry," he said.

Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator at Thai Netizen Network, said surveillance software was useful in intercepting narcotics deals, money-laundering, terrorist and other illegal activities for public benefit - but it was necessary to have transparency in using such a tool.

"However, the track record of Hacking Team, which uses the remote control system or RCS technology, is controversial. For example, a court in South Korea ruled recently that officials of the National Intelligence Service used the product illegally when they spied on opposition politicians, journalists, social activists and top-level business executives without any prior court approval.

"Regarding Thailand, we have had no evidence so far concerning such an illegal activity. According to Thai law, state officials are allowed to wire-tap suspects in narcotics, money-laundering, corruption and other offences on a case-by-case basis - if they have prior court approval," he said.

"However, once the RCS technology is used on mobile phones, it will constantly send out data so we may have to find a new way to make the court approval process more effective and transparent. I think it would be acceptable if such surveillance software was used transparently for public benefit. People are concerned about abuses and privacy violation.

"Technically, RCS is not like a wire-tap as it works when you install a programme on the target's mobile phone by downloading software - whether intentionally or unintentionally - or it can be in your PC's operating system."

Another Bangkok-based cyber security expert, who asked not to be named, said he believed the Hacking Team data leak was genuine in showing e-mail communications between Thai government agencies and the Italian software firm.

It was not unusual for some agencies concerned with national security to use surveillance software, he said.

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