Thai Gov't Accused Of Instituting Mass Internet Surveillance… To See If You're Reading Anything The King Doesn't Like

from the big-brother-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder dept

There’s been lots of talk about internet surveillance lately, for obvious reasons. Authoritarian regimes, like China and Iran, have been using it to stifle dissent. Western countries have been using it by claiming that it’s to “stop terrorism” (though, the evidence shows that’s mostly just a convenient excuse). So, really, it shouldn’t be any surprise to see governments embracing internet surveillance for more and more ridiculous ideas. Over in Thailand, we’ve written about the country’s ridiculous “lèse majesté” laws that make it a crime to “insult” the king. This has resulted in some crazy situations in Thailand, including having all of YouTube banned because of a single parody video, an entire chat site shut down because some people said some stuff the king didn’t like, and a US citizen threatened with 15 years in jail over merely linking to an unauthorized biography of the king.

So, perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that a Thai news organization is reporting that the government is now planning on using mass internet surveillance to make sure that no one is even reading anything that the king doesn’t like, which would violate those lèse majesté laws.

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…. 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.

That last bit seems highly questionable. If done right, encryption would make that kind of surveillance nearly impossible, so the idea that whatever system they’re using could actually do that should be taken skeptically. Of course, it could just be that the government is leaking these claims to lead people to self-censor in the belief that they are being watched, even if it’s not true. And if that’s the plan, it appears to already be working.

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.

Of course, as we noted earlier this year, the leaders of the recent Thai coup have already been big on censoring the internet, and a law passed back in May lets the government “monitor and access the computer traffic, the use of websites, social media, photos, text, video and audio… which are deemed unlawful” and further to “stop the dissemination” of any such website. It appears these latest rumors are just taking it up a notch.

Of course, the chilling effects and impact on free speech of even rumors of such a system should be frightening to anyone who believes in free speech and an open internet where people can discuss things freely.

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Comments on “Thai Gov't Accused Of Instituting Mass Internet Surveillance… To See If You're Reading Anything The King Doesn't Like”

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32 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

“Of course, the chilling effects and impact on free speech of even rumors of such a system should be frightening to anyone who believes in free speech and an open internet where people can discuss things freely.”

I used to think that during the initial “snowden revelations” (aka: “giant head-fuck from the DOJ”). Now, knowing better, I do what I want, when I want to, without regard to the DOJ, or the “five eyes coalition”. It’s become patently obvious, over time, that these “revelations” were an attempt to control the masses via a self-fulfilling-prophecy of fear. Didn’t work.

Mr. Holder, you can go fuck yourself.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘Authoritarian regimes, like China and Iran, have been using it to stifle dissent. Western countries have been using it by claiming that it’s to “stop terrorism” (though, the evidence shows that’s mostly just a convenient excuse).’

given the way they are acting, i wonder how long before the UK is added to this list of Authoritarian regimes’? it has just blocked more sites and proxies, all at the insistence of an industry that relies on make believe to exist but pays next to nothing into the UK kitty, just like it does(n’t) in the USA!!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Taking advantage of jurisdiction

Taking advantage of the fact that I’m just kinda outside the jurisdiction of the Thai government, can I just say that anyone so sensitive to what people say that they institute laws specifically making it a crime to ‘insult’ them are little more than pathetic children masquerading as adults, and in no way, shape, or form deserve or are fit to have the power and authority to run so much as a lemonade stand, never-mind an entire country.

Seriously, if someone is that touchy to words, they need to go home, and let the adults handle things. Maybe they can pass the time watching some nice harmless cartoons or something, goodness knows anything more mentally taxing would probably be beyond their capacity to handle.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: More man-in-the-middle attacks

It’s possible to avoid MITM attacks. Even half-measures (like cert pinning) can help a lot, but probably the best (of the practical options) is to periodically check to ensure that your root certs are correct. Doing so is a bit of a pain, (although there are tools that make it easier) and describing how is a little beyond the scope of a comment, but you can do a web search for something like “how to verify root certificates” for help.

Personally, though, I don’t worry enough about this particular issue to do this level of checking. On the other hand, I also don’t do anything that’s really sensitive over the web.

Those sorts of tradeoffs are at the core of all security: high security means inconvenience. It’s unavoidable (in the physical world as well as online).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: More man-in-the-middle attacks

Oh, I should mention the #1, really easy thing you can do to minimize MITM risk: actually pay attention to warnings about certificate problems. Most people simply ignore them, but the vast majority of the time a MITM attack will trigger such a warning (and all suggestions for making sure the trust chain is correct simply results in the warnings appearing when they should, nothing more). If you ignore the warning, then that’s on you head.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: More man-in-the-middle attacks

Interestingly, as I am currently viewing this website from a government computer running Windows 7 and IE 8, my computer gives me a certificate warning whenever I go to Techdirt. I assume it’s because the site is encrypted and I’m using really old software.

Should I be worried about Mike doing MITM attacks on me? =)

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: More man-in-the-middle attacks

If a spy agency really wants access to a particular bit of data, they will get it, bruteforcing it if nothing else.

However, if they’re just scooping up random crap, just because they can, then any little bit of extra work they have to go through to read what they grab is valuable, because it makes them that much more likely to focus on things that are actually useful to them.

Like any group, they don’t like wasting time and money, and while it’s (relatively) easy and cheap to scoop up unencrypted communications, properly encrypted stuff takes real work on their part, so they’re much less likely to just grab and store it as an after-thought, and only do it when they believe they’ll get something valuable.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: More man-in-the-middle attacks

This is sort of like locking your car. If someone really wants in your car, they’re eventually going to get in, regardless of your security measures. But if it’s locked, and someone is walking along trying door handles to steal change from your center console, that locked door is enough to make them move on.

Incidentally, encryption is also like locking your car…it doesn’t necessarily mean your car is full of heroine, it could just mean you don’t want someone taking your glasses. I’ve never understood why people seem to assume if you are trying to be secure online it means you must be “hiding something.”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: More man-in-the-middle attacks

Most of the time it’s likely simply because they’ve bought into the idiotic ‘If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide’ idea the police and spy agencies love to push so much.

To counter them, anytime someone tries that line, or anything similar to them, demand that they hand over some personal information, like name, address, email credentials, stuff like that, and if they refuse(when they refuse), ask them what they have to hide, and if that seems to be getting through, use their previous refusal as an example as to how a desire for privacy does not automatically translate to wrongdoing.

NotARobot says:

Re: Re: More man-in-the-middle attacks

“properly encrypted stuff takes real work on their part, so they’re much less likely to just grab and store it as an after-thought”

I have to disagree with you there. IMO they’re grabbing and storing EVERYTHING (including encrypted streams) with a view to one day being able to easily access the data within (ie. when quantum computers soon eventuate). For them storing 20, 30 or more years of your life is not an issue and provides them with massive troves of information to get you on some level or other

Udom (profile) says:

There’s a huge cultural divide here. Thai people are Buddhist and one of Buddhism’s basic tenets concerns Right Speech. You very rarely hear Thai people slanging others and they consider doing so extremely boorish. It’s a culture of respect and the most respected man in the country is the King. Politicians exploit this when they can to accuse opponents of disrespect for the King, and it’s no doubt being exploited here to justify internal spying that will be used to monitor political opponents. But Thai attitudes concerning disrespect are not “ridiculous”.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They are when they can get someone thrown in jail.

Looking down on those that don’t ‘respect’ those that deserve it(who exactly deserves respect being an argument for another time, though my personal opinion is that no-one automatically deserves respect, no matter what position they may hold) is one thing, having a social stigma attached to that would be taking it a little farther, but to throw someone in jail, or threaten them with criminal charges for ‘dis-respect’ is taking it to ridiculous levels.

Udom (profile) says:

Re

Different cultures find different things important. Apparently it’s legal in the US to burn the US flag, but anyone doing so would take a serious risk of being shot dead. And… the Thai King himself would never see or care about insulting comments. When you insult the King you insult the Thai people as a whole. If you did it on the street in Bangkok you’d be lucky to be arrested before a mob formed.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re

And… the Thai King himself would never see or care about insulting comments.

And yet, it’s still a considered a criminal offense to insult him, so if he really doesn’t care, he might want to reign in the overzealous idiots who are making him look like an intolerant child by ‘defending’ him against comments he apparently ‘doesn’t care about’.

When you insult the King you insult the Thai people as a whole.

Ah the ‘joys’ of ‘patriotism’, where calling out the stupidity/foolishness of a law/individual is seen as insulting an entire country(which would only be true if the entire country agreed with the particular idiocy/foolishness being called out).

Just to clarify my position a bit, when I say a law is ridiculous, the only way that accusation would also apply to the king(or the ruler of any country with ridiculous laws) was if:

A) He was the one who created it.
and/or
B) He didn’t create it, but he agrees with it, and refuses to repeal it(if possible) when it’s brought up.

‘Apparently it’s legal in the US to burn the US flag, but anyone doing so would take a serious risk of being shot dead.

If you did it on the street in Bangkok you’d be lucky to be arrested before a mob formed.’

Which does little more than show that there are bloodthirsty ‘patriots’ everywhere, always looking for an excuse to crack some skulls over any slight or imagined insult to their country/leader.

The irony that their actions do more to damage and hurt the reputation of said country/leader apparently never occurs to them.

(Unrelated to the conversation, you might want to switch to ‘Threaded’ mode if you’re not already using it, and use the ‘Reply to this’ link when replying to a comment, makes things much easier to keep track of for all involved.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re

And? No one’s disagreeing with this. The point raised is the likelihood that the current ruling party is using it as a pretext to silence and shut down anything they consider dissent. It’s not the first time it’s been done when the army takes over.

What’s ridiculous is when people don’t see this and simply assume that since someone is being accused of lese majeste, off with his head. People act plenty ridiculous about that.

Udom (profile) says:

Re Re Re

The King doesn’t run the government or make laws. He’s roughly in the same position as the Queen of England, a figurehead. She doesn’t sit up nights searching the internet for nasty comments either… You can get into the same kind of trouble in Thailand by showing disrespect to any statue of the Buddha, (quite a few foreigners have landed in prison that way). You don’t like a society built on respect? stay home.

Incidentally, the King was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, making him technically a US citizen. He got his degree in Political Science at the Lausanne University of Switzerland.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re Re Re

I have no problem with a society built on respect, what I have problems with is a society built on forced respect.

When you’ve got a situation of ‘Show respect to X or else‘, whether that ‘or else’ is an angry mob or the threat of jail time, that is not a society built on respect, and the simple fact that the demand for ‘respect’ is backed with a threat, of any kind, makes any ‘respect’ shown worthless, because much like you should never trust someone who insists that they are trustworthy, if someone/something is truly worthy of respect, there would be no need for threats against those that didn’t show it.

Nick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re Re Re

Doesn’t sound like you’ve ever been to Thailand, That One Guy. They aren’t ‘forced’ to respect their king. The majority of the people love their king and queen and will take offense if a foreigner or anyone disrespects them. As Udom said, the king and queen are just figureheads. They have limited say in what laws the lawmakers make. They don’t demand respect “or else.” They can’t control what the people do if they perceive the king has been disrespected. Just because you didn’t grow up in that kind of culture doesn’t make their culture wrong. If you’re in another country it’s wise to follow their culture. When in rome, do as the romans do.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re Re Re

Again, I don’t care whether or not the people in the country respect their king, that isn’t the point. The point is a law making it a criminal offense to show disrespect for anything is a ridiculous law, and cheapens any real respect shown by others.

They don’t demand respect “or else.”

The Queen/King may not, but the law absolutely does. When showing disrespect is treated as a criminal offense, that is most certainly an ‘or else’ situation.

They can’t control what the people do if they perceive the king has been disrespected.

If they really are more figurehead than leader, then no, they probably can’t do anything directly on that front. On the other hand, if people do really respect them so much, they’d probably listen if the King told them to maybe be a little less zealous against those that don’t share their level of respect.

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