The police are planing to keep tabs on users of the Line messaging app who discuss issues that pose a potential threat to national security, but critics have warned the plan violates the law and threatens to infringe on people's privacy.
"I've noticed that more criminal offences are being committed through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Line," Pol Maj Gen Pisit Paoin, commander of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), told reporters on Tuesday.
He said a team of officers went to Japan last week to meet Line messaging app developers and gather information about suspected offenders.
Pol Maj Gen Pisit Paoin from the Technology Crime Suppression Division has unveiled a plan to keep tabs on Line app users who pose a potential threat to national security. (Photo by Kitti Woraranchai)
According to the commander, the plan to keep tabs on messaging app users will not violate people's right to privacy, because the TCSD has software to monitor messages with words that pose threats to national security, such as coup, monarchy, lese majeste, drugs, counterfeit goods and prostitution.
The plan is intended to safeguard political, social and national stability, maintain peace and order in the country, and protect the morality of Thai people, he said.
"Thailand currently has 15 million Line users but our agency cannot inspect all of them. We will only monitor the people who use social media to break the law.
"This is not an infringement and Thai people still have the right to express their opinions as usual," Pol Maj Gen Pisit said.
The TCSD chief added that he will travel to Japan on Friday to meet staff from Line Corporation.
He said he had also tried to coordinate similar work with the executives of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, but had not received much cooperation from them.
Despite that, he called on Facebook users not to share or click "like" on messages that could pose threats to national security. If a false coup message got 20,000 or 30,000 likes and was shared widely, people might believe it, he warned.
The authorities would look into people who clicked like and shared such messages, he said.
Amara Pongsapich, chairwoman of the Office of the National Human Rights of Thailand, said the TCSD's plan to spy on Line users may infringe people's privacy.
"This investigation method has a high risk of violating privacy because most chat conversations involve people sharing personal information," Mrs Amara said. "It is similar to telephone tapping and if it has to be implemented, the inspection framework must be clear and people's rights must be taken into consideration."
Police should follow international privacy standards because many social media interactions include individuals living outside Thailand, she said.
Surangkana Wayuparb, director of the government's Electronic Transaction Development Agency (ETDA), said police have no authority to keep tabs on chat conversations and that such action would violate Section 157 of the Criminal Code.
"Under the Computer Related Crime Act, police need to get a court order before obtaining information on suspects from service providers," Mrs Surangkana said.
Poramet Minsiri, founder of Thailand's popular social websites Sanook.com and Kapook.com, said he opposed the TCSD's plan to keep track of people's Line messages.
"This news report causes panic and lacks clarity. If there's a channel to inspect the messages in Line, people who use this app would feel uneasy," Mr Poramet said.
He said the TCSD should have to request court orders to carry out such activity, and not be allowed to randomly inspect people's messages.
Without court orders, the authorities might inspect the Line messages of political opponents, he added.
Panthongtae "Oak" Shinawatra, son of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, posted on his Facebook page saying he did not believe that the government had approved the TCSD's plan to monitor Line messages.
He said the Line application is only a vehicle of communication. A driver may use the vehicle to just communicate while others many use it to commit offences. The fault is with the users, not the application, he said.
"This reminds me of a Democrat Party member who proposed the idea of blocking Facebook and he was widely criticised by many people even to this day," Mr Panthongtae said.
He added that police should be friendly with the general public, and not come up with ideas similar to those of the Democrat Party.