Today, the military dictatorship of Thailand announced that it would be implementing the use of customized SIM cards that will allow authorities to track the movements of foreigners within the country. Under the proposed law, anyone not holding a Thai passport would be required to exchange their normal SIM card for the government-authorized one, which is being justified as necessary to help combat terrorism and crime in Thailand. The plan is set to be enacted within six months, and while it could just be a ploy by the unpopular government to appear to be cracking down on unrest, it would most certainly be a massive invasion of privacy and a huge hindrance to U.S. and other special operations and intelligence operations in the region.
White-sand beaches and Mai Tais—not
The government’s explanation for using the measure to keep its citizens safer is unlikely to allay the fears of many would-be foreign travelers. Travel to the country has already taken a hit since the 2014 military-led coup. The country’s constitution was suspended (a new one, written by—you guessed it—the military, was approved this past weekend) and, in a nod to North Korea, “attitude adjustment” camps have been established to give regime opponents the occasional tune-up when deemed necessary. Not exactly something the board of tourism is likely to throw on a brochure.
According to Takorn Tantasith, Thailand’s secretary general for the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (like our FCC, I think), the law will take effect for any foreigner the minute they step onto Thai soil, and a court order isn’t required to track an individual. “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.” It cannot be turned off. For an intel officer or special operations team running a job in-country, that thought is a nightmare. But it isn’t the end of the world.