Miss Universe Fahsai Lands Top 5, Stirs Debate on Gov’t Surveillance

Paweensuda “Fahsai” Drouin answers her final-round question at the Miss Universe 2019 pageant Sunday night in Atlanta, Georgia.

ATLANTA, Georgia — As one of the final five vying for the Miss Universe crown, Thailand’s contestant was lobbed a question about government surveillance vs privacy, stirring debate among netizens.

South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe 2019 on Sunday local time, while Thailand’s Jennifer Paweensuda “Fahsai” Drouin made it to the final five out of a total of 90 delegates.

In the Q&A session for the Top 5, Tunzi answered a question about what she wanted to teach young women (“leadership,” because “nothing is as important as taking up space and cementing your place in society”), and Fahsai had 30 seconds to discuss whether she preferred government security or privacy.

“Government surveillance is used to keep many nations and their people safe, but some believe this invades our right to privacy. What is more important to you, privacy or security?” host Steve Harvey asked.


“That’s a very tough question,” Fahsai said. “I believe that every country has their own government policy to keep us safe, and I believe that it shouldn’t cross the line of going into our privacy because we have a right to privacy.”

Fahsai’s answer seeked a middle ground.

“But security is also very important, so I believe that in order to live in a better society, we should also have the government look into a line, a middle ground as to where they can come and live together with society,” Fahsai said.

The last time Thailand made it to the Top 5 was in 2017, when Maria Poonlertlarp Ehren flubbed by answering that her generation’s most important social movement was young people, because society was aging. Her answer caused Thai netizens to discuss about just what were important social movements.

Read: Miss Universe Maria’s Flub on ‘Social Movement’ Stirs Debate

Fahsai’s answer ignited among Thai netizens discussions about security vs. privacy in the top-trending hashtags #MissUniverseThailand2019, #FahsaiPaweensuda, and  #Security.

“If those in power violate privacy for the sake of security, then security fails,” @Taethitisak123 tweeted, in a tweet retweeted almost three thousand times.

“Dang what a lit question that slapped me right in the face about things I can’t talk about. It totally recalls the NCPO,” @nanasquanne tweeted, referring to the junta that ruled from 2014 to pre-election 2019.

In February, the junta’s rubberstamp parliament passed the Cybersecurity Act, which commissions of IT officials deployed to protect online infrastructure, that critics said is ripe for abuse. In October, a digital economy minister said cafe and restaurant operators with free wifi service must collect internet traffic data used by their customers or face punishment.

Some netizens said they didn’t feel the need to choose between the two.

“Privacy is one of the factors of security that every government should provide to their citizens,” @MyQQueenn tweeted in English.

“A government should offer both security and privacy to its citizens. It’s not something we have to choose between. Tell that to Tuu,” @oohscchss26 said, referring to Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.

“What a political question. If she were to get the crown, she would’ve had to take one side. The US judges like that more, but we are more used to answering neutrally,” Facebook user Tanapong Watchararot wrote.

Tunzi brings South Africa its third crown. Just two years ago, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters won Miss Universe 2017 and Margaret Gardiner won in 1978. Tunzi is South Africa’s first black winner, as well as the first black winner since Angola’s Leila Lopes won in 2011.

“I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful. I think it is time that that stops today,” Tunzi said in her final speech session.

South Africa won over first runner up Puerto Rico’s Madison Anderson, second runner-up Mexico’s Sofia Aragon, and Top 5 contestants Gabriela Tafur from Colombia and Fahsai from Thailand.

Some Thai accounts posted racist memes about Tunzi, with one screencapped meme by user Goodguy Charming comparing her glittering blue-gold gown to an eel.

Fahsai makes it into the Top 5:

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