A Thai minister has admitted Thai authorities employ surveillance software to track persons in cases involving national security or drugs, following disclosures that the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware was used to hack the phones of those critical of the government.
Bangkok Post reports that Mr. Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, stated in parliament on Tuesday evening that he is aware of Thai authorities using the spyware in “limited” instances, but did not specify which government agency employed such software, which program was used, or which individuals had been targeted.
Successive governments in Thailand have been accused by human rights organizations of using broad definitions of national security as a pretext for prosecuting or prohibiting the activities of their rivals.
A joint investigation by Thai human rights group iLaw, Southeast Asian internet watchdog Digital Reach and Toronto-based Citizen Lab highlighted on Monday the use of Pegasus spyware on at least 30 government critics between October 2020 to November 2021.
The probe followed a mass alert from Apple Inc in November informing thousands of users of its iPhones, including in Thailand, that they were targets of “state-sponsored attackers”.
Mr. Chaiwut did not name the Pegasus software directly, but did say he is aware of spyware being used to “listen into or access a mobile phone to view the screen, monitor conversations, and messages”.
H added his ministry does not have the legal authority to use such software and did not specify which government agency does.
“It is used on national security or drug matters. If you need to arrest a drug dealer you have to listen in to find where the drop would be,” he said.
“I understand that there was the usage of this sort but it is very limited and only in special cases.”
His ministry has previously denied any knowledge of the matter.
Pegasus has been used by governments to spy on journalists, activists, and dissidents, and the Israeli company NSO Group has been sued by Apple and placed on a US trade blacklist.