Thai authorities have detained at least nine people on suspicion of hacking, a senior junta official said Monday, following days of disruption to government websites sparked by the passing of a controversial cyber censorship law.
Earlier this month Thailand’s rubber-stamp parliament unanimously approved a new security law that will make it much easier for the junta to scrub the web of content it dislikes.
The broadly-worded bill bans people from uploading anything deemed “in breach of good morality” and empowers a new committee to take down websites. Since the bill’s passing, hactivists have targeted Thai government websites.
Some have been temporarily disabled by so-called denial of service attacks — a type of assault that overwhelms a website using networks of computers — while some hackers claim to have breached government databases and made off with sensitive material.
Rumors had swirled for days that the military had made some arrests. But official confirmation only came on Monday.
“We have arrested some hackers, there were about nine people and we will continue arresting them,” deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan, the junta’s number two, told reporters.
Since the generals seized power in 2014 national security offences are primarily handled by the military, with confirmation of detentions often only coming days after someone disappears.
On Monday police in Bangkok paraded a 19-year-old hacking suspect who had been handed to them by the military after undergoing interrogation for an unspecified number of days.
“The suspect confessed that he faked an identity and accessed the system (of) the royal police office,” Supaset Chokchai, commander of the national police’s computer crimes unit, told reporters.
Rights groups and cyber activists have vowed to challenge the new law in the courts.
Thailand already has a string of laws that opponents say curbs debate, including a draconian lese majeste offense outlawing criticism of the monarchy and sweeping legislation on criminal defamation.
The new cyber law is itself an update of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act which was initially drawn up to target criminals using the web for scams, but later morphed into a tool to pursue critics.
Many of those charged with royal defamation in recent years have found themselves simultaneously hit with computer crime charges.
Thailand’s junta have largely curbed public dissent by banning political gatherings and arresting those who demonstrate.
As a result the internet remains one of the few areas where discussion can take place but often at great risk.
Royal defamation, sedition and computer crime cases have skyrocketed under military rule, often for comments made on social media.
Critics say the new cyber law will also do little to further the junta’s stated aim of turning the kingdom into a regional digital hub.