Internet backlash greets Thai junta plan to track expats via SIMs

Published:  11 Aug at 6 PM
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Tagged: Visas, Thailand
Following the Thai military junta’s announcement of the latest anti-foreigner plan, expats and international media sites responded with disbelief and seething comments.

Just two days after the controversial referendum took place, the ruling junta in Thailand announced its latest plan to monitor all expats and foreign tourists in the country. The plan involved tracking all those with foriegn passports by forcing them to change their existing SIM cards with SIMs programmed as tracking devices. Initially, no exemptions were to be made for long-stay expats on retirement, marriage or business visas.

The unfortunate wording of the initial press release stated the plan would be enabled in order to make it easier for Thai police to track foreigners and stop them committing crimes. A rapid change in wording to ‘national security’ came too late to stop the flood of negative online comments by tourists, expats and astonished netizens from across the world. The controversial, some say non-practical, plan was approved by Thailand’s telecommunication regulators, who mistakenly believed Malaysia had a similar tracking system.

Several days later, in one of the fastest turnarounds yet seen from the military government, it was announced that expats living in Thailand on valid visas would be exempt from the new requirements. There’s still no explanation as to how the authorities will deal with plane-loads of arriving tourists with their smartphones, all of whom will be told they must have one of the new SIMs in order for their movements to be tracked for the duration of their holidays.

The astonishing announcement followed on the recent introduction of new forms to be filled in by all expats as part of their visa extension applications and 90-day reports. Yet another controversial plan which caused a great deal of concern and annoyance amongst the expat community, the form demands details such as email addresses, a list of regularly visited social media sites and another list of social events attended, shopping habits and regular hangouts.

As yet, replies to most of the form's questions are voluntary, although bank account numbers and personal details are being regarded as compulsory. Expat concerns centre on last March’s two leaks of online personal data relating to expats in Southern Thailand, with security software company BitDefender ranking Thailand as the fifth highest Asian country for cybersecurity threats.
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