I first read George Orwell’s book, 1984 many years ago. I remember thinking that was such a horrible idea and it couldn’t possibly come to pass. But, the more I read the news in the last year alone I see a shift taking place.
Two years ago I went to Thailand for a few days visit. It was a wonderful trip and I had a great time taking a boat tour, visiting an elephant reserve and hanging out on the beach. I felt very relaxed. I enjoyed it to the point where my wife and I were thinking about buying a place there so we could visit during the winter. Then, the military coup d'etat came. I know this is something that has happened a lot over the last century there but, it was enough that we opted against the idea of purchasing a place.
While I was there I did have occasion to poke around online. I was able to discover some of the pages that were blocked by the ISP on the orders of the government. Some of which struck me as odd considering what was just down the road from my hotel in Phuket. Suffice as to say there was a disconnect there. In May 2014 the Thai general Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power. Since then there have been some gradual changes as the military has consolidated their control over the country.
The piece that struck me was on December 29th, 2014 when ISPs were ordered to censor content. Which, strangely enough they were already doing in some cases at least.
From Bangkok Post:
The new measure was approved at a joint meeting between the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), large internet service providers (ISPs) and the police's Special Branch on Monday.
NBTC secretary general Takorn Tantasith said in cases where the ISPs are uncertain whether a page should be blocked, they may consult the NBTC's five designated staff.
After an ISP blocks a page, it is to report to the NBTC and the Information and Communication Technology Ministry without delay.
Not overly surprising when you consider that the military are now running the show there. But, what did cause me greater concern was when I read at the end of January that they Thai government was now testing a solution to intercept HTTPS according to a leaked document.
Um, I says pardon?
According to the junta’s sub-committee order on measures to monitor online media, the document states, the Ministry resolved to assign a “working committee on online media to monitor, screen, check, collect and analyse the dissemination of information from all kinds of online media and consider measures to prevent and suppress.” the statement said. “It is found that there are obstacles in monitoring and blocking websites using Secured Sockets Layer. The Minister resolved to provide and test the efficiency of the tool to monitor online media in order to support the work of the committee.”
The Thailand government has given itself the ability to monitor SSL traffic and this is troubling for any companies doing business in the country. The government has hinted that these surveillance measures are to combat violations of Lèse majesté laws but, there is nothing to ensure that it stops there. It isn’t clear which company sold this intercept software to the Thai government and I will continue to dig into this.
This is a troubling development as the privacy, and in some cases, the safety of Thai citizens could be called into question. It provides little comfort that Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha said that Thai citizens didn’t have to worry as long as they had done nothing wrong. A cold chill ran down my spine.
I hope that this won't be as bad as I fear but, somehow I think that it will be in the long run. Too many governments seem to think that 1984 was meant to be a playbook.
(Image used under CC from nolifebeforecoffee)