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Activists want investigation into government’s plans to “spy” on people



PHOTO: Thai PBS World

The Ministry of Defence and the Disease Control Department have demanded phone usage data from service providers, and political activist Srisuwan Janya (aka. “Thailand’s complainer-in-chief,”) is lodging a petition with the National Human Rights Commission seeking an investigation. The secretary-general of the Thai Constitution Protection Association says he found the conduct of the MoD and DCD to be a breach of the “rights, liberties and human dignity of the people,” as enshrined in Section 4 of the Constitution.

Srisuwan says the demand could also violate the Privacy of Information Protection Act, dismissing claims by the MoD that it’s in the process of gathering opinions from all stakeholders about the means to contain the spread of Covid-19, and has not received information about phone usage. He also questions the MoD’s claim that phone usage information can be used for containing the spread of the contagion.

The director of Policy and Planning at the MoD admits that the idea of taking phone usage information from service providers, to be used to track those infected with the virus, originated from the defence technical team, citing the case of the cluster of infections at the Lumphini boxing stadium.

“If the military had had the phone information of about 2,800 people who were at the stadium… it could have tracked them down and alerted them of the need for medical screening, rather than only 800 actually traced by the DCD.”

Representatives of 5 service providers were invited for discussions with defence officials, along with the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, due to their regulatory role.

He insists that the MoD had good intentions and no ulterior motive or plan to use the information in a way that would violate people’s rights, and maintains that the ministry has not made use of the Thai Chana phone tracking program, which was initiated in mid-May.

Independent academic and writer Saranee Archavananthakul raised further questions, demanding to know why the MoD wants to get involved in tracking and monitoring people suspected of being infected.

She asks why the MoD, the NBTC and DCD did not publicly disclose details of the plan to exploit phone usage information.

Saranee says Thai people are unaware that the MoD is working on an app to track people without their knowledge, over and above the Thai Chana platform.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World


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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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