Report Says Thai Democrat Activists Targeted by Pegasus Spyware

Dozens of Thai democracy activists targeted Spyware Israel’s controversial Pegasus came to light at a time when intense anti-government protests were at their peak, according to a report by an international digital rights group.

Massive protests swept through Thailand’s capital Bangkok two years ago as thousands demanded greater civil liberties and the relaxation of a strict lèse-majesté law, which blocks any criticism of the monarchy .

The report by Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab, in partnership with Thai organizations iLaw and DigitalReach, identified around 30 activists, academics, lawyers and NGO workers – mostly linked to civil rights organizations – whose mobile devices were affected.

“The hack took place from October 2020 to November 2021, during which time pro-democracy protests were widespread and primarily targeted key figures in the pro-democracy movement,” the report said.

Pegasus software, created by Israeli company NSO Group, can retrieve data and activate a camera or microphone once it successfully infiltrates a mobile device.

The report does not say exactly who is behind the use Spyware this, although he noted that NSO Group said it only sold the technology to the government.

In an executive summary of its own findings, Thai NGO iLaw said: “It can be concluded indirectly that the use of Pegasus against dissidents will be of significant benefit to the Thai government.”

According to Citizen Lab, those targeted included lèse-majesté lawyer Arnon Nampa, protest leader Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa.

A smartphone affected by the spyware ‘Pegasus’, is displayed in Paris on July 21, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Panusaya is currently out on bail and faces 10 counts of royal libel. Jatupat’s bail request was denied earlier this year after he was also accused of insulting the kingdom.

Those affected by Pegasus were notified in November 2021 when Apple sent a notification that their phones had been targeted by a state-backed attack.

Following an independent investigation, Amnesty International condemned the hack.

“This new revelation is a startling example of the weakness of moral authority in controlling peaceful dissidents,” said technologist Etienne Maynier. “It should be remembered that this is only what has been uncovered so far, and the scale of surveillance efforts could be much larger and more destructive.”

This is the latest case in which Israeli software has been used to monitor dissidents.

The NSO group is currently being sued in the United States by Apple, which accuses Spyware the company used to hack a number of iPhones around the world. [uh/ab]

Robert Butler

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