Thai PM denies buying spyware for use on opposition

    Report claimed data provided by WikiLeaks revealed Thai army bought spyware system from Italian company around time of coup

     22 July 2015 13:32 (Last updated 22 July 2015 13:40)
    Report claimed data provided by WikiLeaks revealed Thai army bought spyware system from Italian company around time of coup

    By Max Constant


    Thailand’s prime minister has denied there is any truth in WikiLeaks cables that suggest his armed forces bought a spyware system from an Italian company around the time of the 2014 military coup, in doing so confusing the alleged provider with the secrecy-spilling website saying he “did not even know anyone at WikiLeaks.”

    “I did not do it. I don’t even know anyone at WikiLeaks,” Junta Leader-cum-Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters when asked about allegations that first appeared in Sunday’s Bangkok Post.

    “It is not my duty and I confirm that we did not try to search private communications from people. I am not interested to know with whom you communicate,” he added, according to Thai-language paper Krungthep Turakit on Wednesday.

    The Post reported Sunday that data provided by WikiLeaks revealed that the Thai army bought a spyware system from the Italian company Hacking Team for $390,000 in 2014.

    The same report affirmed that Thai police also bought a similar system for $310,000 in 2013.

    The purchases coincide with the country’s military coup of 2014 that saw then Army Chief Chan-ocha overthrow the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

    The Post report — citing data provided by WikiLeaks — reported that the Singaporean, Malaysian and Vietnamese governments also bought malware systems from the Italian company.

    The spyware allegedly purchased are stealth systems, which take control of devices such as computers and mobile phones by installing a malware through malicious websites or emails and SMS with malicious attachments.

    Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator at Thai Netizen Network, a local NGO, was quoted by The Nation on Wednesday as saying the spyware sold is normally used to fight drugs trafficking and terrorist activities, but he added that “the track record of Hacking Team is controversial”.

    “For example, a court in South Korea ruled recently that officials of the National Intelligence Service used the product illegally when they spied on opposition politicians, social activists and top-level business executives without any prior court approval.”

    On Sunday, Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara told the Post that the use of such spyware by police or the army would be “a violation of democratic principles”.

    “The state does not have the right to threaten the privacy of individuals,” he added.

    “Thailand needs to be aware that it is at risk of violating the right to privacy and freedom of expression, under the disguise of ‘national security’ concerns.”