Digital Rights

in Southeast Asia 2022/2023

In the Annual Report on Digital Rights in Southeast Asia 2023, given the culture of digital authoritarianism, DigitalReach reviewed digital rights-related issues that happened in 8 countries across Southeast Asia which are Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam from January -December 2022. This research contains one special coverage and three chapters that are divided based on our thematic area which are freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and digital security. The report also observes an ongoing situation where technology has been weaponized in Myanmar by the Myanmar military following the coup d’état in 2021. Due to the distinct character, the situation in Myanmar is made as a separate section in this report.

As it is our tradition that we do a special coverage every year, this year observes the rise of TikTok as a major platform that information disorders (misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information) spread during the 2022 general elections in Philippines and Malaysia. In terms of Freedom of Expression, the trend that is observed throughout the region continued from 2021 which is the attempts of the governments throughout the region trying to control the way social media platforms can operate. This is done through adopting and proposing a number of repressive laws that grant the government power to order social media platforms to do accordingly.

Regarding the right privacy, the discovery of Pegasus spyware in Thailand became an important case study for other countries in Southeast Asia. This is due to the shared similar context which is a lack of laws and mechanisms that can protect dissidents from authoritarian governments from the use of spyware and similar technology despite some countries may have personal data protection laws enforced. Also, it is unlikely that Thailand is the only country in the region where spyware has been used against political dissident. The spyware discovery has also significantly contributed to risks in digital security. Many lessons being learned throughout our investigation with our partners as well as difficulties that has happened post-discovery. It indicates that there is a lot of work needed to protect digital security of dissidents in Southeast Asia.

The full report is available below.