Thai police asked the operator of the popular “Line” instant messaging app for access to records of online chats, raising concerns about intrusive surveillance despite promising only suspected criminals would be targeted.
Technology Crime Suppression division chief Pisit Paoin said on Tuesday that police wants to review the data of users they suspect are involved in crimes, including making statements against the Thai monarchy, arms trading, prostitution and drug dealing.
Thailand has draconian lese majeste laws, which impose maximum prison terms of 15 years, and government officials attempt to scrub the internet of statements critical of the king and his family.
“We are monitoring only those who break the law. If you’re using Line and social media to break the law, then you see us, the police,’’ Pisit said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the government did not intend to limit people’s freedom and any monitoring would target individuals rather than the general public. But the police move has raised concerns about violations of privacy and free speech.
She called on the police to seek a court warrant in cases where they want to access the private data of individuals.
“Thailand is one of very few countries in the world that does not have data protection law,’’ she said. “Authorities, therefore, should use extra caution when it comes to citizen surveillance.’’
Pisit said his unit approached Line operator Naver in South Korea, and in Japan where its servers are based, and was hopeful of cooperation. He expects to meet with Line representatives in Tokyo on Friday. He said requests for information would be on a case-by-case basis.