Keeping up with cybercrimes
More tech-savvy officers is needed to keep tabs on online gangs
One of the country's top cybercrime busters, Pol Col Siriwat Deephor, said that while there are enough laws in place to deal with crime and other nefarious activities on the internet, there is a lack of tech-savvy police officers who are adequately trained to deal with high-tech crimes.
As the deputy commander of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), Pol Col Siriwat is responsible for overseeing investigations into cybercrime cases.
While he is known for his relentless battle against the trade of child pornography by online criminal gangs, recently he has been focusing on groups that specialise in creating and distributing fake information through social media, which is increasingly being used by certain groups and/or individuals to undermine their political rivals.
Pol Col Siriwat was a student of Class 33 in the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and a graduate of the Royal Police Cadet Academy. He then obtained a master's degree and a doctorate in criminology from Mahidol University.
He was starting out as an officer at a police station in Nonthaburi, when he began to develop an interest in computer sciences and technology -- an interest that served him well and defined his career path.
Later, he was put in charge of TCSD's 2nd sub-division, and subsequently, the 3rd sub-division. His job was to deal with online transnational crimes, including sex trafficking and child pornography. He was promoted as the TCSD's deputy commander in the latest police reshuffle last month.
"As an officer at a police station, I only handled thefts and other petty crimes," he said. "But I was keen to learn more about the world of online crimes, and I want to see how it [cybercrime] differs from conventional crimes."
Pol Col Siriwat said that by combining the practical experience he gained when he served in the field with the knowledge he attained from studying computer sciences, he managed to make headway in his battle against online criminals -- particularly those who trade in child pornography.
For example, the TCSD arrested a Moldovan national in May last year for violating the Computer Crimes Act by operating a pornographic website that raked in about 123 million baht annually.
The suspect, identified as Serghei Cependiuc, 30, was arrested at a house in Thap Sakae district in Prachuap Khiri Khan, where he lived with his Thai wife. He was found to have travelled in and out of Thailand since 2009.
The website contained pornographic images of underaged people, and was accessed by members who paid monthly fees of US$19.95 (640 baht), according to the TCSD.
The arrest happened after the Dutch police alerted Thai authorities that Mr Cependiuc is one of the website administrators.
"When it comes to fighting cybercrime, we have to constantly keep up with these criminals who have now moved on to the internet," he said. "All they need to commit a crime is a mobile phone, a bank account, plus the courage to take a big risk."
As Thailand's social media usage continues to increase in intensity, criminals are following suit and often mark their victims on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
"Online fraud is increasingly becoming a problem, and criminals are constantly devising new and more sophisticated tactics to stay one step ahead of investigators," he said.
As such, it is important to educate the public -- especially young students -- about the dangers of cybercrimes, Pol Col Siriwat said.
Because cybercrimes can be carried out from anywhere in the country, the TCSD has organised sessions to hone the skills of police officers nationwide to handle high-tech criminal cases.
Pol Col Siriwat also said he is currently focusing his attention on tackling the dissemination of fake news, which has been used to attack political rivals before and after the March 24 election. "The TCSD has already set up a centre to monitor fake news around the clock," he said.
He said that while Thailand has laws which can effectively deal with cybercrimes -- such as the Computer Crimes Act -- there is a shortage of police officers that has the necessary skills to handle such crimes.
Currently, there are only 170 TCSD officers nationwide. However, provincial police have set up their own cybercrime units, where people can file complaints instead of travelling to the TCSD's headquarters in Bangkok.