PM and Anudith among critics of move to monitor chat users
An attempt by the police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to exert control over Thai users of the globally popular chat application Line has been scoffed at by both by the Information and Communication Technology Ministry and the online society.
A statement by division commander Pol Maj-General Pisit Paoin that Line Corporation had agreed to cooperate contradicted an official statement by the Japan-based company, which declined to comment on the issue.
“Since Line Corporation has not received any official request from the Thai police, we cannot provide any answers to the questions on this issue at this point,” a statement from the company said in response to a query from The Nation.
“Line does not collect or store any information from its users, as we protect users’ privacy and maintain a global-level of security standards,” the statement said.
ICT Minister Anudith Nakorn-thap said later that his ministry and the government disagreed with Pisit’s initiative and they had no authority to check on private messages sent and received by Thai Line users. “It’s a violation of privacy, and the ICT [Ministry] deems the initiative unnecessary,” he added.
“The government has no policy to limit or violate the privacy of netizens, and in this case of Thai Line users,” he said.
In another effort to discourage anti-government attempts by political rivals, TCSD commander Pisit earlier said the agency had asked Line Corp in Japan to cooperate. He said TCSD officials would be sent to Japan to seek information about “suspicious Line users” in Thailand. He did not clarify whom he meant by “suspicious Line users”.
Pisit’s attempt seems to have hit a snag when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra expressed dismay about his initiative, saying the government maintained its stance on privacy and freedom of expression. “We are not emphasising [chat] applications’ usage, but rather people [who slander or spread false information] who use them,” she said.
Pisit’s remarks, made in a radio interview yesterday morning, contradicted Line’s statement in the afternoon. He said Line Corp had cooperated with his initial request, which he said was made earlier in the year. He said Line users categorised as “having potential to commit crimes” would be put on a watch list. In addition, a words-filtering tool, which would flag words like “guns”, “monarchy” and “coup” for special monitoring, would be devised to work in conjunction with the Line program.
Pisit softened his stance in an interview at a press conference, saying it was Line’s right to decide whether it wanted to cooperate. “If they do not, we have other ways to inspect Line messages. But it would be good if they do, it would be helpful” to TCSD work to check out on Line users.
The prime minister’s nephew Panthongtae, who has a large number of online media followers loyal to the ruling Pheu Thai Party and his father Thaksin Shinawatra, also dismissed Pisit’s initiative. He said he disagreed strongly with the idea, as that would only turn away netizens and public members.
Panthongtae said he had contacted Aunt Pou (Yingluck’s nickname) and his father on a daily basis through Line and had not heard any of them criticising this chat app. “Chat apps act merely like a road that serves motorists, who should be dealt with individually in case they travel on this road to commit crimes,” he said on Facebook.
Cyber lawyer Paiboon Amonpinyokeat said the TCSD had the right to request information but companies would normally refuse to oblige, especially taking into account Japanese and South Korean laws. Also, such international requests for information would need a court order. The agency can request information if it clearly involves crimes, but it is up to Line to decide.