In a weird reversal of the current trend, Thai police officials are actually talking about their efforts to monitor their citizenry, according to the AP. Thailand’s government and police have requested that popular Japanese messaging app Line provide access to their archives of online chats, for the stated purpose of helping them gather data on people suspected of being involved in crimes including arms trading, drugs, prostitution – and making statements that run counter to the Thai monarchy.
Thai laws prevent nay-saying the ruling royals, and can impose a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for such statements. The government is actively involved in removing critical mentions of the royal family from the web, too. The proposed monitoring plan would allow the government to pore through what’s meant to be private communication between individuals, as well as publicly posted material.
The AP reports that high-ranking Taiwanese technology crime cop Pisit Paoin said that they’re going to be targeting individuals on a case-by-case basis, not doing some kind of blanket surveillance (a la PRISM) but that’s hardly going to be very reassuring for Line users in Thailand. Critics of the plan suggest police be forced to secure warrants in cases like these at the very least.
Line, which has over 10 million users in Thailand, told the AP for its part that it doesn’t collect or store any info about its users, and that it hasn’t been received a formal request for the data yet from the Thai government. Pisit reportedly has arranged a meeting with Line in Tokyo this Friday to discuss the Thai police’s needs, however.
Line wouldn’t be the first company to encounter issues with cooperating with local officials and data privacy problems. BlackBerry has been forced to provide access to its communication services in India just recently, for example, and Skype, and others have faced pressures there and in other markets as well.
It might not be an isolated case, but it’s a frightening one for users no doubt, especially because Line and other instant messaging services focus more on private communication, vs. more broadcast-based social networks like Facebook and Twitter.