Thailand wants to track tourists with a special SIM card

By Lauren McMah

Thailand plans to track tourists in the country via special SIM cards. Photo / Martin Sykes
Thailand plans to track tourists in the country via special SIM cards. Photo / Martin Sykes

A bold new rule for tourists looks set to be introduced in one of Australia's favourite overseas playgrounds.

Thailand's telecommunications regulator has approved in principle a plan to make tourists use special SIM cards that would allow authorities to monitor their movements via their mobile phones.

It comes as the Thai military, which came to power in a 2014 coup, continues its crackdown on misbehaving tourists as well as during a time of high state surveillance of online activity throughout the country.

Under the plan, the SIM cards would include a feature that allowed mobile operators to track and locate users at any time, although there has been little detail about how exactly a tracking system would be implemented.

The plan was originally set to apply to all foreigners, including residents on long-term visas, but it has been scaled back to just tourists.

Takorn Tantasith, the secretary-general of Thailand's National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, denied the government was attempting to curtail civil liberties, and said the plan was designed to help catch criminals and assist tourists who ran into trouble.

"It is not to limit tourists' rights," Takorn told Agence France-Presse.

"Instead, it is to locate them, which will help if there are some tourists who overstay or run away (from police)."

Takorn told the Bangkok Post if tourists "commit wrong, or there is a court warrant, we will then forward the warrant to a mobile phone operator and seek co-operation".

The country's leading mobile phone service provider AIS said it would comply with the plan if it helped to ensure national stability, The Guardian reported.

Thailand's ruling military junta wants to be able to track the whereabouts of tourists. Photo / AP
Thailand's ruling military junta wants to be able to track the whereabouts of tourists. Photo / AP

But Poomjit Sirawongprasert, president of Thai Hosting Service Providers Club and a strong advocate of free speech online, described the plan as useless, especially if was meant to capture criminals or terrorists.

The use of roaming SIM cards from other countries, or having Thai citizens purchase a card for a foreigners, could evade monitoring, she said.

Thai residents and foreigners are already required to register when buying a SIM card in Thailand.

Thailand has been getting tough on misbehaving tourists, with the country's first female tourism minister cracking down heavily on the local sex industry.

Authorities have also been chasing down tourists on illegal "visa runs" - which are creative ways by which tourists attempt to lengthen their stay in Thailand - and working to shut down illegal tour operators.

But Thailand has also faced global criticism by the United Nations and human rights groups for clamping down on critics of the country's revered royal family and the ruling military junta.

Human Rights Watch said last year freedom of speech had reached a new low in Thailand following the arrests of dozens of people accused of sedition and other crimes.

In the past two years, people in Thailand have been arrested for reading works by George ­Orwell and raising three fingers in the air.

In April, a woman was charged with sedition for posting a photograph online of herself eating from a red rice bowl - the colour associated with the country's former prime minister who was deposed in the 2014 coup.

The woman's arrest was described by The Times as an example of the junta's "thin-skinned paranoia".

On the weekend, Thai people voted in favour of a military-backed constitution, a result that baffled pro-democracy campaigners in Thailand and observers around the world.

- news.com.au

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