The big issue: Enter China with a big stick

The big issue: Enter China with a big stick

Huawei Technologies senior vice-president Chen Lifang (Huawei Technologies Co photo)
Huawei Technologies senior vice-president Chen Lifang (Huawei Technologies Co photo)

First, a brief summary before last week. The official slogan of the military regime is Thailand 4.0, which no one can explain but looks better than Digital Thailand. The unofficial slogan is Control the Internet. The official policy is Arrest Internet Troublemakers. The internet police roundel now sports the motto, We Know What You Did Last Night on Facebook. The regime Plan That Must Never Be Named is "One Gateway to Rule Them All". Finally, there is no change to the military order of the day which is — No Change.

This latter rule of all rules had even cynics cringing. First, shut down the app-friendly, popular UberMoto and GrabBike motorcycle taxi upstarts that threatened to cut into the military regime’s petty-cash cow and informers’ network of Thailand 1.0 motosai drivers.

Five days later, quite mysterious forces released working iPhone and Android apps, extensive marketing material and advertising for GoBike. Obviously, this was well advance while the military was dealing harshly with foreigners who tried to mess over their motosai guys.

Unconfirmed but credible reports said the Taopoon Casino board of directors were livid they have never been able to rig a game that blatantly. That was just a sideshow. The attempt to out-Chinese China’s great firewall percolates away, mostly in the background and literally on the Dark Net. In a deja vu moment from the one-gateway disclosure, geeks beavering away in obscure government documents found another poison-pill treasure.

Buried in collection of files in a folder best labelled “what we’re trying to get away with, with this new computer law” was a - pardon the military analogy - smoking gun. Yes, computer laws are badly needed in these days of hackers, crackers and thieving hijackers. But get this.

The reason for the Computer Crime Act (CSA) amendments that Internet Censorship of Thailand (ICT) Minister Uttama Savanayana is trying to rush through is a stipulation that state security can legally intercept any internet traffic, at any time. All officers need do is walk into an internet providers office and order them to allow “wiretaps” on net traffic of all kinds, no limits - specifically not big-business or financial sessions.

The general prime minister said he doesn’t know anything about technology and leaves it all to Mr Uttama and Co, who are crafting the law to allow decrypting https traffic to get at anti-royalty Facebook criminals. If they get bank account details including your account passwords, confidential business conversations and so on, it is either error or the plan, who knows? (And anyway, they’re already doing this, otherwise the Facebook 8 would not have been arrested.)

This amendment is already under way at the military's appointed National Legislative Assembly. It will halt only if NLA members have the guts to just say "No". Now that the Thai Netizen Network has informed them, NLA members all know what they are doing.

Which is. Thailand will be known worldwide as the country which mandates all e-payments all the time by all businesses, and also where every security officer can conduct "man in the middle" attacks on all internet traffic, all the time. Said monitoring need not even have a stated purpose.

Mr Uttama last year pooh-poohed the single-gateway plan his ministry is still working on because it was before his time in office. The new law to legalise all internet intercepts takes place now, when he is minister.

Here’s the likely scenario. The minister will defend the amendments but be aghast at any suggestion anyone would try to intercept confidential internet data like banking or business discussions. A bright spark will ask him how he would safeguard against that. Mr Uttama will ask the country to trust him.

Meanwhile, the search is on for the unpatriotic, nation-hating traitor who blew the whistle on these latest plans to emerge.

This is why the rather sudden appearance of Huawei Technologies is so interesting. This is a world leader in technology, and Huawei big-shot “Madame Chen” Lifang was here to cut the ribbon on her Southeast Asia regional headquarters in Bangkok.

Huawei has a dual reputation as a fabulously talented tech firm, selling equipment that could, shall we say, help government efforts to crack the net. It also has the ability to inform and help and sell equipment and software to consumers to protect themselves from over-zealous surveillance efforts and password interception.

Which way Madame Chen and her firm lean in the next few weeks and months will say a lot about online security.

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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