Thailand’s constantly abused lèse-majesté law, designed to protect the country’s beloved king and queen but utilized almost solely to silence political opponents, has proven a sort of “gateway drug” to a surveillance state.
The latest lurch forward for the Land of Smiles is an announcement that it will monitor online conversations conducted by Thai civilians on social media sites, including Facebook, YouTube, and popular messaging apps WhatsApp and Japan-based LINE.
Thailand’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) claimed the move was needed to “safeguard order, security and morality of Thailand.”
The move to real-time online surveillance is beginning with the extremely popular LINE, which is used by 15 million Thais. Although LINE has yet to agree to the monitoring, the TCSD wants “LINE Corp. to be the the first line of surveillance and send us any ‘suspicious’ activity on their app.”
According to Global Voices’ Aim Sinpeng, the Thai public is having none of it.
The move has “outraged the Thai public both on and offline.” Among the groups publicly condemning the plans are the Thai Netizen Network and the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
“The constitution,” said the Lawyers Council, “explicitly says state agencies must respect individual's rights, freedom of speech and expression.”
A recent Thai poll found that 74 percent of Thais were against the move, largely on free speech grounds.