Thailand admits to using phone spyware, citing national security

A Thai minister has admitted the country is using surveillance software to track people in national security or drug cases, amid revelations that government critics’ phones have been hacked with Israeli-made Pegasus spyware. Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn said in parliament late Tuesday he was aware Thai authorities use spyware in “limited” cases, but did not specify which government agency uses that software, what program was used or which people were targeted.

Human rights groups have accused successive Thai governments of using broad definitions of national security as an excuse to pursue or suppress the activities of their main competitors. A joint investigation by Thai human rights group iLaw, Southeast Asian internet regulator Digital Reach and Toronto-based Citizen Lab on Monday highlighted the use of Pegasus spyware by at least 30 government critics between October 2020 and November 2021.

The investigation followed a mass alert by Apple Inc. in November, which informed thousands of users of its iPhones, including in Thailand, that they were targets of “state-sponsored attackers”. Chaiwut didn’t name Pegasus, but said he was aware that spyware is used to “eavesdrop on or access a cell phone to view the screen, monitor conversations and messages.” However, he added that his ministry does not have the legal authority to use such software and did not specify which government agency does so.

“It’s used for national security or drug issues. If you have to arrest a drug dealer, you have to eavesdrop to find out where the drop would be,” he said. “I understand there was such use, but it is very limited and only in special cases.”

His ministry has previously denied any knowledge of the matter. The latest alleged use of the spyware comes after the emergence in late 2020 of a youth-led movement challenging the country’s powerful monarchy and the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. More than 1,800 people have faced security-related charges since the movement began.

Thai police in a statement denied using Pegasus for surveillance or invasion of privacy. Pegasus has been used by governments to spy on journalists, activists and dissidents, and the Israeli company behind it, NSO Group, has been sued by Apple and placed on a US trade blacklist.

NSO Group did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on Monday or Wednesday.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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