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Steady erosion of media rights as Thai military tightens its grip

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned about reports of increasing control by the Thailand Military Junta over news and information on radio, television, printed and online media that is sent abroad and the implications this has for freedom of expression in the country.

The Thai military junta has set-up five inter-agency subcommittees to inform the media and the public of the work of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and to monitor content that incites hatred of the monarchy and allegedly false information, including that which impacts the NCOP’s operation.

Thailand's censorship regime has grown ever more pervasive since the military took over last month, with reports of punishments aimed at both speakers and consumers of prohibited media. Hundreds of new websites have been added to the Thai government's official blacklist including politics and news sites covering the coup. The Thai junta has reportedly been found to use a Facebook app to harvest email addresses by deceiving internet users into disclosing personal details, including email addresses and Facebook profile information, when they try to visit prohibited sites.

Under Thailand's national web blocking infrastructure, internet users attempting to visit blocked sites in Thailand are redirected to a government web landing page, managed by the country's Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD).

After the coup, the country's digital rights group, the Thai Netizen Network, noticed the TCSD block page had sprouted two new graphics: a blue "close" button, and a "Login with Facebook" icon. The "Login" app was reportedly being run by TCSD itself, which used Facebook's application platform to collect the details of Facebook users visiting to the landing page.

Thai authorities have long claimed that foreign companies should comply with all their demands for removing content and handing over personal data. Facebook has consistently refused such requests.

A deceptive Facebook app without a clear privacy policy or embedded explanation is a violation of Facebook's own platform policies, and TSCD’s app has now been suspended by Facebook at least twice.

On Friday, after days of online criticism, the TCSD belatedly posted a justification for its application, writing:

The collection of witness or user's data is a data collection procedure of TCSD.info, which is supported by Article 26 of Computer-related Crime Act (2007). This data collection is the same as other websites that use Facebook for their authentication. By this way, TCSD can handle more witnesses which can lead to more prosecutions and will make the online society more clean. We invite you to send information to https://www.facebook.com/jahooktcsd Facebook's own public app statistics pages show that these two apps between them managed to scoop up hundreds of Thai email addresses before being shut down.

This is not the first report of governments adopting phishing and spamming techniques in order to collect information on their own citizens.

The IFJ Asia-Pacific office said “These attacks on freedom of expression and moves to monitor and collect personal data on individuals are a sinister development. This shows the Thai junta’s determination to control the media by any means. During a time of democratic uncertainty, the media’s role is all the more critical. Increased censorship through content monitoring and the blacklisting of news sites covering the military coup and the use of the internet and social media to deceive citizens into giving personal data are deeply concerning developments in the Thai military’s control of the country.”

IFJ calls on the Thai Military authorities to respect and fully observe the nation’s obligations under international law with regard to freedom of expression and the role of the media.

Date posted: June 28, 2014 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 5