BANGKOK – Thai police have 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 Police Maj. Gen. Pisit Paoin said Tuesday that police want 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 told The Press.
The move has raised concerns about violations of privacy and free speech. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Tuesday the government did not intend to limit people’s freedom and any monitoring would target individuals rather than the general public.
Pisit said his unit approached app operator Naver in South Korea, and in Japan where its servers are based, and was hopeful of co-operation.
He said the requests for information would be on a case-by-case basis. Pisit said he will fly to Tokyo to talk with Line representatives on Friday.
There are more than 10 million Line users in Thailand.
Last week, technology police summoned four people for posting coup rumours on Facebook and threatened to charge anyone who “liked” the postings.