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Thailand’s military government plans to track foreigners’ every move through their phones

Custom SIM cards that enable tracking may soon be mandatory for foreigners in Thailand.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Any foreigner stepping foot in Thailand may soon have their movements closely tracked by the country’s military dictatorship thanks to a new plan to require a special tracking SIM card for visitors of any kind.

Anyone who doesn’t hold a Thai passport would be required to use the new SIM card, the country’s telecom authority announced last week. The plan, which could be enacted within six months, has been justified by authorities who cite the country’s fight against terrorism and crime.

“We will separate SIM cards for foreigners and Thais,” Takorn Tantasith, the country’s Secretary General of the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, said in a statement on Monday. 

“The location will always be turned on in this SIM card for foreigners. And it cannot be turned off.” 

Tantasith tried to allay worries by saying that a court order was required to track someone.

That might not be enough to settle the fears of foreigners in the country.

“The location will always be turned on in this SIM card for foreigners. And it cannot be turned off.” 

Thailand is currently run by a military junta. In power since a 2014 coup, they’ve suspended the country’s constitution and have rolled out “attitude adjustment” camps for opponents of the regime.

Since the military junta points to the country’s rule of law as a safeguard against abuse, let’s look at Thailand’s newly approved constitution, voted for just this past Sunday in a national election.

The constitution was written by the military, entrenches the power of the army as head of state, and establishes only “semi-democracy,” according to the BBC.

Campaigning was banned, critics were arrested and charged with crimes against the state.

This is the rule of law that Thailand’s military dictatorship wants foreigners and tourists to trust.

It’s not clear, therefore, what it would take for a court to order tracking. A political disagreement could well be enough.

This has several key obvious consequences.

First, the Thai tourism industry may object. Tourism of nearly 30 million people per year earns the country some 20 percent of its GDP, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Depending on how this news spreads, any downturn in tourism could hamstring the country’s economy. That fact may undermine the plan from the start.

Second, if it is implemented, a SIM black market in which Thai residents provide SIM cards to foreigners will almost certainly explode within the country.

The specifics depend on the legal and technical details of the plan which have yet to be revealed. But there will no doubt be foreigners who don’t like having their every step tracked and who will try to circumvent the surveillance.

According to Thai reports, Tantasith said similar plans were being considered by Malaysian and Singaporean officials.

Although this plan targets foreigners, government officials made clear that Thai residents were not outside of their purview.

“The function is not in SIMs card for Thais because we can always easily track them,” Tantasith claimed.

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