Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Mass Surveillance and the Militarization of Cyberspace in Post-Coup Thailand 1

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Mass Surveillance and the Militarization of Cyberspace in Post-Coup Thailand 1

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

On 3 May 2016, a group of activists including myself was summoned to a military barrack in Chiang Mai city for an 'attitude adjustment'2. The rationale for the summoning, as the commander of the 33rd Military Circle, the third general, Major General Kosol Prathumchat explained, was that my colleagues and I violated the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) orders, concretely order number 3/2015 which installed "measures to deal with actions intended to undermine or destroy peace and national security", by staging a protest at the Thapae Gate of Chiang Mai city on 27 April 2016. In response to this accusation, I argued that the gathering was peaceful and did not involve any activities that would be considered as a threat to national security. I also maintained that the assembly of our small group took place in a public arena where similar activities frequently occurred. However, another high ranking military official who was also there, objected. As he contended, our presence at Thapae Gate might not have posed a problem, but when I posted a photo of the group standing there on Facebook with the caption "Freedom, Freedom, Freedom Now!" - that was definitely a political act that violated the law.

The aim of this paper is to examine the interrelation of the state and social media and their contribution to the creation of cyber dystopia3 in post-coup Thailand. Although social media and computer-mediated communication have been subject to control by the Thai state for almost a decade, cyber security has only recently been identified by the army as a significant part of national security. While the militarization of cyberspace has been incorporated into a part of the army's strategies, various tactics of online and offline surveillance have been deployed to monitor both the data and traffic of Thai citizens on the Internet. In the post-coup era where offline activism has been severely suppressed, the Internet has become a primary platform for communication and digital surveillance by the military which has not only served to monitor online activities and intercept electronic communication, but also provided an effective means to arrest dissidents and anti-military activists. Cyber-crime has recently been identified by the Thai army as one of the most significant non-traditional security threats that requires strict mechanism of control. In defending the necessity of the National Cyber Security Bill, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha firmly asserted: "If there is a threat to national security - a violation, or someone committing a crime - we need to empower state officials to investigate" (Sim, 2015).

The Thai military's shift toward cyber security is a response to the need to find a new role for the Thai armed forces in the 21st century. While, on the one hand, the military continues to increase its surveillance capability across wider social arenas, on the other hand, cyberspace has been discovered to represent a new platform for political empowerment. Militarization of cyberspace is thus the new mechanism for the military to consolidate its political power. As Pirongrong Rananand (2003) argued, the changing political landscape in Thailand has had a profound impact on the lnternet regulatory landscape.

The military's attempt to systematically control the Internet began in 2007, following the 2006 coup, when the military-led Surayud government passed the Com puter Crime Act.4 Although Internet filtering was first initiated in 2002 by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), the 2007 Computer Crime Act was the first step to state legalization of information control on the Internet.5 This law has created substantial penalties for cyber-crimes and placed criminal liability on any person who allowed unlawful content to be distributed, including lèsemajesté (O'Brien, 2014). Since it came into force, the law has been widely criticized for its violation of freedom of expression on the Internet. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.