No, really, Big Brother is watching

No, really, Big Brother is watching

The Big Three of International Computing have convinced tens of millions of customers to spy on themselves. Considering this, what's the big deal when the government listens in too -- well, apart from the going-to-jail part -- at least?

Apple's Siri and Homepod, and Amazon's Alexa and Echo never stop listening and recording and collecting information on their owners, family and other cohabiters. A company whose motto used to be "Don't be evil" has persuaded 8.5 million people (about 25% of the world market) to pay them 4,500 baht in real money plus shipping for something called Home that does the same thing.

These doohickeys listen for your instructions, and when you tell them to crank the volume up to "11" and play the AC/DC Thunderstruck River Plate video again, they do it. The government listens and nods blandly and does nothing because you're not breaking the law.

The deal used to be that we will hand over a limited set of details of our lives if you in turn give us something worth having, such as "free" email or Channel 7 streaming or all-day access to cat lolz.

As of last week, that changed. Now the government is about to install super-snooping surveillance software. The new deal is they listen to us and monitor everything we do online and maybe they won't break in at 2am and send us to the 11th Military Circle hotel for interrogation.

Government used to deny it spied but last week bragged it is purchasing and installing software to follow you online. The junta is putting up another 45,000 CCTV cameras. And the general prime minister and his carefully curated parliament boasted they have absolutely no concern about your concerns about passing a new law to make all of the above happen without any oversight. That icky "rule of law" nonsense might mess with patriotic pursuit of people who commit thought-crime.

It's not surprising that the completely independent National Legislative Assembly doesn't care what you think about what it calls the Cyber Security Bill -- the name selected because "Summary Snooping Bill" would give away the game.

There is no other law like it in the civilised world. It allows "officials", who are not defined, to monitor, wiretap, raid, seize documents and arrest any person, group or company of any size or nationality -- without a warrant.

Oh for Pete's sake, explained Royal Thai Army Cyber Centre director Maj Gen Ritthi Intharawut. Stop being such a crepehanging party pooper. "There's nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong." Well, whew!

This June 16 photo shows social media app icons on a smartphone in San Francisco. Google yourself. Curate your online photos. And as one private high school advises its students: Don't post anything online you wouldn't want your grandmother to see. Or an army general. (AP photo)

The new software, identity unknown, cost exactly 128.56 million baht, is to serve the whims of the project to end lese majeste by any means necessary. The government is currently attempting to intimidate Facebook, YouTube and the like by claiming jurisdiction over everything that passes through cyberspace.

The revelation of the software is equally meant to intimidate the public, some members of whom might want to peek at forbidden internet fruit. At this moment, the new snoopware is phantom, classic vapourware. It exists, but not quite as scary as advertised.

The actual, stated threat of the Digital Service Infrastructure Department of Minister Pichet Durongkaveroj's Digital Economy and Society Ministry is fantasy. But note the wording: "The software will sweep and store all data available on social media to be analysed and monitored".

On today's largely encrypted internet, the key word there is available. Much as he would undoubtedly like to, department director Teerawut Thongpak is going to monitor and store a pretty small fraction of what goes on in Thailand's cyberworld. Even the US NSA and the UK GCHQ between them only collect a bit of metadata on the internet submarine cables in and out of Thailand.

Big Brother at the moment is still growing but he can't watch everyone all the time. Even China can't do that. Even North Korea can do it only by barring almost all citizens from the internet.

Do not underestimate Mr Pichet, however. If he gets a whiff of a hint that you personally are "liking" far too many Bad Posts, then the interrogators at the 11th Army Circle smile.

The difference is that when the government was caught buying Galileo snoopware from the Italian company HackingTeam in 2015, it was so ashamed it denied it. Just two years later, with a purchase 10 times bigger, it is boasting it's going to get you.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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