The state's technology crime unit has "no authority" to trace people's Line messages, as that would breach the criminal law, the Electronic Transaction Development Agency (ETDA) says.
A Line message warns about the Technology Crime Suppression Division's plan to trace the chat logs of people using the smartphone app. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
The warning came after the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) outlined a policy to monitor Line messages in the wake of recent rumours on social media about a possible military coup d'etat.
- Earlier report: Police plan to monitor Line app
Line Corporation said it has not received an official request for message tracing from the Thai police. The company declined to elaborate.
Line also insisted that it does not collect or store any users' information or messages, as it protects users' privacy.
Line is a smartphone app which allows users to make free voice calls and send free emails and instant messages.
As of July 21, up to 15 million users in Thailand had signed up for the Line service.
Thailand is the world's third-largest Line user, after Japan and Taiwan. Line has reached 200 million users worldwide.
The ETDA is a unit under the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) set up to develop, promote and support electronic transactions or electronic transaction services.
ETDA director Surangkana Wayuparb, who drafted and amended the Computer-Related Crime Act, said tracing chats on social media networks would violate Section 157 of the Criminal Code.
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)
The code prohibits state officials from carrying out acts that may cause damage to the state.
Under the act, Ms Surangkana said police must ask a court to order social network providers to give them access to messages.
Paiboon Amonpinyokeat, founder of law firm P&P Co, said monitoring people's Line messages would violate Section 8 of the act, which prohibits the illegal interception of data. "This move by the police is simply a political threat," he said.
Mr Paiboon also said clicking "Like" on social media posts is not considered unlawful, as long as those messages do not contain content deemed as lese majeste or are related to terrorism.
Human Rights Commissioner Nirand Pitakwatchara called on the TCSD to be extremely careful when seeking to trace Line application chat messages or it would be in violation of the charter.
He said a line must be drawn between national security and government stability following concerns that the measure could be used as a political tool.
TCSD chief Pol Maj Gen Pisit Pao-in insisted the policy would not affect "law-abiding" citizens.
He said that the policy targeted only violators of national security, public safety and order, and public morality.
People who share the messages are initially not the main target. "We focus on those using social networking to break the law," he said.
He said the agency has approached several chat service providers such as Facebook and WhatsApp but they refused to cooperate, citing US laws.
Pol Maj Gen Pisit said he will travel to Japan on Aug 16 to discuss further cooperation with Line Corp executives. The TCSD team went to Japan from Aug 5-9 to seek cooperation from the developer.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she did not know the details of the TCSD policy but assured it did not threaten individual privacy.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva slammed the measure, saying the government was trying to create a "climate of fear".