A top technology official yesterday admitted that Thailand’s government has used a potent spyware tool sold by an Israeli company but denied it was used to attack dissidents.
Addressing parliament during a no-confidence debate that kicked off yesterday, Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn admitted that the tool, called Pegasus, has been used but insisted that it was only against suspected drug traffickers. His comments came after recent reports that dozens of pro-democracy activists were hacked with the tool.
During the no-confidence debate in the parliament that kicked off yesterday,
“I know that [Pegasus spyware] exists because we’ve studied about it before,” Chaiwut said on Tuesday in the parliament. “But as much as I know, it’s only used for drug trafficking investigations only such as eavesdropping the criminals when and where they would deliver drugs”
“The use of Pegasus is very limited, however. It’s for special cases only,” Chaiwut said.
Chaiwut was among 11 politicians targeted by the opposition’s no-confidence maneuver. Others include Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit.
National police brass chimed in to deny that they used the spyware to attack the government’s critics.
Col. Krissana Pattanacharoen, national police spokesperson, said Monday that the police have never used Pegasus to break into any private electronic device.
The police force only complies with the law and performs its duties within the legal framework, Krissana said.
According to legal rights advocacy group iLaw, about 30 Thais were hacked with Pegasus, which can crack iPhone and Android smartphone encryption, during 2020-2021 street protests demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and reform of the monarchy.
The revelations came about after Apple notified the victims in November 2021.
The majority of those hacked were dissidents who had roles in the pro-democracy movement. Among them were lawyer-activist Arnon Nampa, student activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, rapper Dechatorn “Hockhacker” Bamrungmuang, academic Prajak Kongkirati, and actress-activist Inthira Charoenpura. The youngest victim was 18.