Thailand’s tourist tracking plan causes astonishment

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Thai tourist SIMThailand presented a plan to force all foreign tourists to have location-tracking SIM cards on their mobile phones when they come to the country, saying the move is aimed at cracking down on overstayers and those who commit crimes or are on international warrant lists.

The country’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has, in principle, approved the requirement that foreigners use such special SIM cards to ensure that they can be tracked by authorities.

“We will separate SIM cards for foreigners and Thais,” Takorn Tantasith, NBTC’s Secretary General, said, adding that “the location feature will always be turned on in this SIM card for foreigners. And it cannot be turned off.”

He, however, tried to allay worries by saying that a court order was required to track someone.

All mobile operators are expected to start launching the special SIM cards by early 2017.

The news made headlines all over the globe, with some commentators criticising the breach of privacy and others doubting that the plan is implementable given the fact that Thailand this year expects 32 million tourist.

Many remarked that it would be easy to circumvent the tracking by turning off the phone entirely or not carrying any, or by using one’s home SIM card on roaming while in Thailand.

Basically, the tourist tracking initiative has more fundamental flaws.

At first, Takorn did not say if tourists would have to buy the SIM cards or if they would be issued free of charge.

Secondly, very few visa overstayers or real criminals would probably carry a mobile phone being aware it’s equipped with a tracking device.

Thus and thirdly, a black market for SIM would develop very quickly – a market in which Thai residents would provide SIM cards to foreigners.

Fourthly, the Thai tourism industry may object because there is no doubt that normal tourists wouldn’t like having every of their steps tracked and probably wouldn’t want to visit the country for that reason because they feel uncomfortable.

Some might be offended that they are being put under general suspicion, particularly high-value tourists which Thailand wants to attract in larger numbers in the future, let alone investors and professionals on business visits. After all, it’s a risky play to alienate tourists to an extent that they might avoid Thailand, owing to the fact that the industry accounts for around 15 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Lastly, telecom expert say that there is actually no need for an outright tracking device because a mobile phone trough its GSM signal can be located quite precisely in the network through base stations even when tracking is turned off by the user. And foreigners who buy a SIM card in Thailand need to show their passport anyway.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Thailand presented a plan to force all foreign tourists to have location-tracking SIM cards on their mobile phones when they come to the country, saying the move is aimed at cracking down on overstayers and those who commit crimes or are on international warrant lists.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Thai tourist SIMThailand presented a plan to force all foreign tourists to have location-tracking SIM cards on their mobile phones when they come to the country, saying the move is aimed at cracking down on overstayers and those who commit crimes or are on international warrant lists.

The country’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has, in principle, approved the requirement that foreigners use such special SIM cards to ensure that they can be tracked by authorities.

“We will separate SIM cards for foreigners and Thais,” Takorn Tantasith, NBTC’s Secretary General, said, adding that “the location feature will always be turned on in this SIM card for foreigners. And it cannot be turned off.”

He, however, tried to allay worries by saying that a court order was required to track someone.

All mobile operators are expected to start launching the special SIM cards by early 2017.

The news made headlines all over the globe, with some commentators criticising the breach of privacy and others doubting that the plan is implementable given the fact that Thailand this year expects 32 million tourist.

Many remarked that it would be easy to circumvent the tracking by turning off the phone entirely or not carrying any, or by using one’s home SIM card on roaming while in Thailand.

Basically, the tourist tracking initiative has more fundamental flaws.

At first, Takorn did not say if tourists would have to buy the SIM cards or if they would be issued free of charge.

Secondly, very few visa overstayers or real criminals would probably carry a mobile phone being aware it’s equipped with a tracking device.

Thus and thirdly, a black market for SIM would develop very quickly – a market in which Thai residents would provide SIM cards to foreigners.

Fourthly, the Thai tourism industry may object because there is no doubt that normal tourists wouldn’t like having every of their steps tracked and probably wouldn’t want to visit the country for that reason because they feel uncomfortable.

Some might be offended that they are being put under general suspicion, particularly high-value tourists which Thailand wants to attract in larger numbers in the future, let alone investors and professionals on business visits. After all, it’s a risky play to alienate tourists to an extent that they might avoid Thailand, owing to the fact that the industry accounts for around 15 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Lastly, telecom expert say that there is actually no need for an outright tracking device because a mobile phone trough its GSM signal can be located quite precisely in the network through base stations even when tracking is turned off by the user. And foreigners who buy a SIM card in Thailand need to show their passport anyway.

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