Pegasus Spyware Used Against Thailand’s Pro-Democracy Movement

After years of concerns that Thailand was purchasing Israeli-made cyber surveillance technologies, human rights groups have found the first forensic evidence linking the NSO Group’s infamous Pegasus spyware to the Southeast Asian kingdom.

A new report by Citizen Lab, published Monday together with two Thai civil society groups, says digital forensic evidence indicates that at least 30 cellphones belonging to activists in Thailand were targeted with Pegasus.

In Monday’s report, published jointly by Citizen Lab, iLaw and Digital reach, the groups said they “identified at least 30 Pegasus victims among key civil society groups in Thailand, including activists, academics, lawyers and NGO workers.”

They noted that “the infections occurred from October 2020 to November 2021, coinciding with a period of widespread pro-democracy protests [in Thailand], and predominantly targeted key figures in the pro-democracy movement. Many of the victims included in this report have been repeatedly detained, arrested and imprisoned for their political activities or public criticism of the government.”

Pegasus, which is made by the Israeli cyber firm NSO Group and sold only to state law enforcement and intelligence agencies, is considered the most sophisticated spyware in the world. The sale of technologies like Pegasus – which allows operators to access a hacked phone’s content, and even remotely turn on a compromised device’s microphone and camera, all unbeknownst to the target – is under strict regulation by Israel’s defense exports body.

Thailand has been under military rule on and off since 2006 and 2014, when army coups took control of the country – a constitutional monarchy whose current king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, is widely unpopular. Since taking control amid calls for political and democratic reforms, the military junta has revived and even expanded the use of legislation intended to defend the monarchy’s good name in a bid to crack down on political activists, both offline and online.

An election was held in March 2019, which was seen as an attempt by the military leadership to consolidate its power by democratic means. In subsequent years, more and more political activists have been detained, arrested and even jailed, including for online activity. “It is possible that the hacking of activists’ phones was done legally via Thai court orders,” Citizen Lab said.

The full report: