Thailand: Tourist tracker

Thailand: Tourist tracker

Thailand’s telecommunications regulator has approved in principle a plan to issue special SIM cards to foreign tourists, so they can be tracked via their mobile phones.

Officials at the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission said the plan would apply to tourists only, backtracking on an earlier announcement that it would cover all foreigners, including residents on long-term visas, the Bangkok Post newspaper and other media reported.

The commission said the plan would be studied further. Foreign and Thai users are already required to register when purchasing SIM cards.

State surveillance of online activity is high under the military government installed after a coup in 2014, and there have been dozens of arrests for posting political material on Facebook and other sites.

The commission’s secretary-general, Thakorn Tanthasit, suggested that the plan would not only help catch terrorists and criminals but also help find travelers who were in trouble or had gone missing.

“We are not limiting any rights. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has no authority to check on the location of users,” he was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post. “But if tourists commit wrong, or there is a court warrant, we will then forward the warrant to a mobile phone operator and seek cooperation.”

His failure to explain details of the plan has caused skepticism, since it is unclear how the special cards would differ from normal SIM cards, which can already be used for tracking phones.

AIS, the country’s leading mobile phone service provider, said it would be “happy to comply” with the plan if it helped to ensure national stability. It noted the existing requirement for everyone, Thai and foreigner alike, to register when buying a SIM card.

The Associated Press