Thai government to track foreigners using SIM cards
Tue 9 Aug 2016
The government of Thailand will hold a special session to review a plan to track foreigners in Thailand using SIM cards. The plan, announced last week to track tourists, has been expanded to cover anyone in Thailand who does not hold a Thai passport.
The plan would require any person in Thailand without a Thai passport to turn on location trackers for any Thai-purchased SIM card. There would be no distinction between foreigners traveling as tourists and long-term resident aliens holding visas for education, employment or marriage.
Tourists visiting Thailand with SIM cards from their home countries using roaming services would not be required to replace their existing SIM with a Thai-issued location tracking version. However, if they wish to purchase a SIM card from a Thai provider using a foreign ID or passport, they would be required to turn on location services.
Secretary-General of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), Thailand, Takorn Tantasith, said, “We will separate SIM cards for foreigners and Thais. The location will always be turned on in this SIM card for foreigners. And it cannot be turned off.”
This move is being touted as a national security measure and an innovation that would help tackle trans-border crime, rather than a violation of personal privacy. It is expected to be rolled out in the next six months.
Similar programs in Malaysia and Singapore require registration of SIM cards, but do not require that location services be turned on and available to government authorities. However, following an international meeting of telecommunications regulators from 10 countries in Phuket last week, Takorn claims that Malaysia and Singapore plan to follow suit.
While the plan raises concerns regarding surveillance and privacy, Takorn was quick to note that only governmental authorities would have the ability to track foreigners through their SIM cards.
“We would just facilitate the police. So they could more easily track foreigners who enter the country and commit crimes,” he said, adding that Thai citizens can already be easily tracked by the government. Further, he said, any abuse of the system would be punished. “If a service provider tracks the SIM location without a court order, they would be charged with a criminal offense.”