Thailand being junta-ed into the future

21 10 2018

Back in 2007, the end of the regime put in place by the junta that conducted the 2006 military coup was marked by the Computer Crimes Act. That junta-ed Thailand in the years that followed, with most of those charged with lese majeste also being charged under the computer crimes law. Of course, many others were junta-ed by the political law.

The current military junta has sought to strengthen the state’s capacity for surveillance. As Sanitsuda Ekachai says in her most recent op-ed:

All our personal and business information will no longer be safe from state surveillance if the draft of a new cybersecurity bill becomes law.

If the bill is passed, the cybersecurity agency, with god-like power could monitor our internet activities and penetrate our systems — without a court order. It could force us to submit information, stop our internet transactions, seize our computers, and issue other measures it deems fit to ward off perceived security threats.

Say “no” and you face a maximum of three years in prison and/or a maximum fine of 300,000 baht.

Like all “cybersecurity” in Thailand, the proposed law is secretive, vague and associated with military and monarchy:

One critic has slammed this cybersecurity law which was hatched in secrecy as being a blatant attempt to make Thailand a Gestapo state. And rightly so.

Make? It is already pretty much there under a military dictatorship. It is just that the current junta wants Thailand to be an anti-democratic state. The proposed law has a “definition of national security is so broad and so vague that anything deemed upsetting to the government and the status quo can be treated as a threat.”

Think monarchy and criticism of a military-backed regime.

Sanitsuda adds:

Also, how critical the threat should be to deserve state intervention is also up to cybersecurity authorities’ judgement. The room for abuse of power in this scenario is huge, especially when the accused has no right to appeal.

More importantly, military security is also defined as national security. This is why the military — in its capacity as an arm of the cybersecurity agency — will be entrusted with the power to freely penetrate our internet systems and force us to follow its order at will.

No government that is not a military government or a military-(s)elected will be able to oppose this military interference or roll back the power this draft law provides for the military. Truly, Thailand will be junta-ed for years, even decades.





Cyber snoops

9 10 2018

In an editorial, the Bangkok Post refers to the military leadership having “unveiled plans to reinforce Thailand’s ‘cyber army’.” That’s a scary plan.

The Post uses terms like: “opaque force” and “Big Brother-like surveillance, accompanied by arrests” that has defined the military’s cyber snooping in recent years, much of it in search of so-called enemies of the monarchy.

The Post states that:

The promise to increase the size and scope of this cyber army came from Gen Pornpipat Benyasri, the new chief of the defence forces (formerly known as the Supreme Commander). In practically his first action after he was officially promoted from his position as chief-of-staff of the armed forces, Gen Pornpipat called a meeting of 300 officers to outline his policies, with cyber security near the top. He wants a bigger force of better trained troops to “solve counter-terrorism problems within 30 minutes”.

The Post reckons that this idea goes back to “the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin deceptively created the first Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT) with the promise of promoting online freedom, open internet access and huge digital advances in education. None of that happened, and every prime minister after Thaksin has made it worse.”

That’s only partly accurate. Thaksin had ambitions but just over 2000 sites were blocked in mid-2006. By May 2007, this had multiplied by a factor of 5 and went up exponentially. The levels of censorship seen in Thailand since the 2006 coup are totally unprecedented and have been associated with military and military-backed governments. Being conciliatory towards the real culprits is weak.

To suggest that the “2006 coup-installed lawmakers used Thaksin’s bait-and-switch tactics to get and pass an initial Computer Crime Act (CCA) in 2007” is inaccurate to the point of being  deceptive. HRW’s report from the time is revealing.

The Post seems all too tepid:

Gen Pornpipat’s emphasis on digital security is well taken. However, it will only earn people’s support if he can resist the urge to expand secret government control measures even further. At the moment, far too many resources — money, and tech-savvy people — are involved in suppression of speech, and trapping people on spurious charges such as “harming the image” of the country and the regime. It is time for a proper, consumer-friendly Computer Crime Act. Thaksin’s moribund promise to bring education into the digital age needs to be properly implemented.

A “cyber army” is as necessary for national defence as the regular armed forces. But just as the Royal Thai Army helps out with floods and fires, so Gen Pornpipat’s cyber army should work more with people instead of against them.

This is not just tepid, it is silly. Thailand’s military is for repressing, not for working with the people. For one thing, it doesn’t trust “people,” and prefers to snoop, repress and oppress, which it does with impunity.





More on the digital Panopticon

18 05 2018

Yesterday we posted on the construct a digital Panopticon. The Bangkok Post military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam has more on the military’s plans for more intensive cyber scrutiny and snooping.

She reports that the Defence Ministry is recruiting civilians and military reserve force members to work as so-called “cyber warriors.” This “special unit” apparently adds to the military’s already extensive “cyber security” capacity.

The bit about using the military reserve is important as Lt Gen Ritthi Intharawut, head of the Defence Ministry’s cyber team, compares its use to the Cold War:

During the Cold War era, the military reserve force was seen as a militia that was very important to the armed forces. But now in the era of cyber warfare, ‘cyber warriors’ are an important asset for the nation….

What Wassana does not mention is that the snooping plan, as in the Cold War, was one of the military’s means for surveillance and for threatening political opponents. Those actions came with associated secrecy and an impunity for the gross acts committed by the military and its semi-trained and armed vigilantes.

Cyber surveillance, threats and legal harassment will assist the military’s continued domination of Thailand’s politics and society.





Constructing the junta’s digital Panopticon

17 05 2018

Anyone who has watched the junta’s boot grinding down political activism, one of the most noticeable and distasteful of its repressive efforts has been to establish vigilantism supporting military hired spies who police the internet for content the military dictators feel is threatening. This usually means online lese majeste although the junta has also bee watchful of its own egos and has also policed the Thai world for political dissidents.

It seems that its “successes” in political repression and censorship have prompted the military and the junta to seek to construct a digital Panopticon. Initially devised by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century, the idea was to construct a prison where the inmates could be observed without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The idea was to impose order and passivity because the inmates cannot know when they are being watched meaning they become motivated to act as though they are being watched at every single moment.

The junta wants all Thais and others in Thailand to believe they are under surveillance all the time. In other words, the whole society becomes, in everyone’s mind, a political prison.

An editorial at the Bangkok Post states that the junta “plans to recruit civilian so-called ‘cyber warriors’ … it needs to ensure they target the right groups of people.” The military dictatorship is hiring and training another 200 cyber spies, with a goal of having 5,000 by 2023. Such a massive spying mission is in the hands of the Minister of Justice – of which there is little – ACM Prajin Juntong.

The plan announced by the junta “leaves room for worries on whether they will be mainly used as a political tool to suppress freedom of expression and hunt down political dissidents.” Fascists will be fascists.

And, as the editorial notes, “a cyber security bill has been drafted pending approval by lawmakers. If enacted into law, it will allow the authorities to take broader control of online activity, including snooping on individuals’ personal computers.”

Another Bangkok Post story refers to the military – not a regular, civilian ministry – is developing ways of tracking tourists, investors and migrant workers, among others. Such tracking is used in other countries but it is only in the darkest of authoritarian regimes that it is the military doing it.

Be very concerned at how broadly the military has defined its role in Thailand. It has seeped and oozed into every arena and level of civilian administration. Even if a junta party doesn’t “win” the junta-granted “election,” the military thugs will be everywhere. The Panopticon is in place.





Get a VPN

31 12 2017

As the military dictatorship blocks traffic to sites critical of it and the monarchy, we urge readers to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

A VPN “extends a private network across a public network, and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running across the VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network.”

VPNs are used to protect private web traffic from snooping, interference and censorship.

A VPN is useful for maintaining privacy when browsing and can also be used for unlocking geo-restricted content.

One site suggests 5 best options for Thailand. Others are listed here. Most browsers allow add-on VPNs.

Those who only need ad-hoc VPN capability may consider installing the Opera browser as an additional browser for their desktop/notebook /tablet, since it incorporates  a number of useful security features, which include a built-in ad blocker and a VPN (provided by SurfEasy Inc., based in Canada), which is accessed when needed in the “Privacy and Security” section of Settings.

Some time ago, tests showed SurfEasy free offered several locations for non-Thailand IP access and reasonably efficient speeds for a “free” VPN service; a subscription service is available, which offers better speeds and location options.

Opera software is available for Windows, at http://www.opera.com/computer/windows ; Mac’s, at http://www.opera.com/computer/mac ; and Linux, at http://www.opera.com/computer/linux .

A  subscription VPN extension for Opera/ Chrome/ FireFox that has proved to be stable and memory-efficient under Thai conditions is ZenMate <https://zenmate.com/>.

Readers in Thailand should search for more information on VPNs and evaluate them. They should also continue to be careful about their internet connections. Although more than a year old now, this guide for journalists may assist some readers.





More on VPNs

15 10 2017

We posted recently on VPNs.

A reader suggested another way of using VPNs. PPT can’t vouch for any of these suggestions as we have only tried add-on VPNs for Firefox and Chrome.

Readers in Thailand should search for more information on VPNs and evaluate them. They should also continue to be careful about their internet connections. Although more than a year old now, this guide for journalists may assist some readers.

Our reader suggested that those who just need ad-hoc VPN capability may want to consider installing the Opera browser as an additional browser for their desktop/notebook /tablet, since it incorporates  a number of useful security features, which include a built-in ad blocker and a VPN (provided by SurfEasy Inc., based in Canada), which is accessed when needed in the “Privacy and Security” section of Settings.

In a brief test (not by PPT) SurfEasy free offered several locations for non-Thailand IP access and reasonably efficient speeds for a “free” VPN service; a subscription service is available, which offers better speeds and location options.

Opera software is available for Windows, at http://www.opera.com/computer/windows ; Mac’s, at http://www.opera.com/computer/mac ; and Linux, at http://www.opera.com/computer/linux .

The software is available in “Stable”, “Beta” and “Developer” options; “Stable” has been relatively error-free while “Beta” and “Developer” provide wider ranges of options albeit with the occasional glitch and periodic updates/patches.

A  subscription VPN extension for Opera/ Chrome/ FireFox that has proved to be stable and memory-efficient under Thai conditions is ZenMate <https://zenmate.com/ >, which is based in Berlin and thus provides security in line with German law.





Illegal and repressive

30 05 2017

There can be no surprise that the draft cybersecurity bill proposed by the puppet National Reform Steering Assembly is considered by almost everyone as illegal.

But illegality seldom bothers the military dictatorship which simply transforms the illegal to legal. It has a puppet National Legislative Assembly that can be told to change any law it wants; it can order it to make laws.

The proposal is to allow the junta and any following governments to snoop on citizens and their internet, social media and other forms of communication activities without a court order.

The junta can already do this using Article 44 which “grants authority to officials in cases of emergency that would create ‘significant damages’ without immediate action.” As the report explain:

In such cases, the officials have the authority to gain access to information on communications, either by post, telephone, fax, computer, any tool or instrument for electronic media communication or telecommunications, or take any measures for the maintenance of cybersecurity with the approval of the National Cybersecurity Committee (NCSC), and then report the action to the courts.

The bill currently proposed “is an amendment to the original version drafted by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DE) and endorsed last year by the cabinet.”

There’s no detailed definition of “significant damages” and the “the draft is too broad and subject to interpretation…”. That’s according to Dhiraphol Suwanprateep, a partner in the intellectual property practice at Baker McKenzie.

The bill promises that the “authorities” will be free of any judicial review, even though such reviews are weak and malleable.