back to article Thailand plans to track non-citizens with their mobile phones

Thailand is considering a proposal to track the location of all SIM cards acquired by foreigners, be they tourists or resident aliens. The plan's been floated as a way to assist law enforcement agencies combat trans-national crime. Thailand borders Cambodia, Laos and Burma, three nations that have reasonably porous borders, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Will this really be possible to implement?

    In China you can buy a burner SIM on every street corner, and behind every university. And top it up using cash in hundreds of small shops.

    Things must work completely differently in Thailand.

    1. Horridbloke


      Nope, things work just like that in Thailand too.

      If it's reasonably easy to check the status of a sim then there will be another opportunity for dodgy coppers to grab some 500 baht fines. Best ditch the local sim when you get back to the airport.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Will you have to show your passport to buy a SIM?

    If not, they can track that SIM, but can't link it to you. They've already got that ability, they can track ESNs as they move across their network so if your ESN is at the scene of a crime they can see your ESN is now at your hotel and with some inexpensive equipment track you to your exact room and knock on your door. No SIM tracking needed.

    Seems unlikely to stop terrorists, who could simply import prepaid SIMs and avoid any SIM->person linkage.

    1. JetSetJim

      Re: Will you have to show your passport to buy a SIM?

      Pfft - they can already track every SIM. There's COTS s/w that plugs into the network and will provide reasonable geolocation of every call made in the entire network, complete with SIM identities. Special requests for live geolocation of specific SIM identities can be made into the network with the standard s/w build on the infrastructure via the legal intercept standards.

      Perhaps all this is doing is, as you surmise, making people show a passport when acquiring a SIM from a legitimate outlet, so they get IMSI's from a "foreign" range of numbers, rather than the domestic range. As you say, not likely to stop anything.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Will you have to show your passport to buy a SIM?

        Pretty sure pay a small amount you can get someone to buy a sim for you. Knew people who used to pay customs to take their passports away and bring them back stamped because they couldn't be arsed to do visa runs.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The real flaw in the plan is that they are tracking the location of a phone, not a person.

    People don't actually need to carry a phone everywhere they go.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      In addition, they need not leave the phone switched on either.

      Will they also ban VoIP as well? Given the often usurious cost for roaming the use of WhataApp or similar on any available wifi is appealing for many reasons.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      > "People don't actually need to carry a phone everywhere they go."

      Easily handled, just pass a law that every foreigner MUST carry a tracked phone at all times. If they are caught without one they would pay a fine and have to demonstrate they have a phone within one day. Heck the government could even provide a phone free in such cases.

      The next infraction would be more serious, of course...

  4. Jimbo in Thailand

    Ahhh... simply more great news courtesy of "Fearless Leader"...

    ...aka Elmer Fudd Jong-Un.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Ahhh... simply more great news courtesy of "Fearless Leader"...

      Can't you get into bother for that kind of comment, if your handle is to be believed?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ahhh... simply more great news courtesy of "Fearless Leader"...

        I doubt it, since "Jong Un" must refer to Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon

          Re: Ahhh... simply more great news courtesy of "Fearless Leader"...

          That's what I thought at first, but this is a story about Thailand.


  5. David Roberts

    Good plan!

    So anyone involved in cross border traffic will just get a local to buy a SIM for them.

    As already suggested, this will just bump up the sale of SIM cards to the locals and encourage SIM swapping.

    Just remember to remove the SIM before you cross back over the border.

    All this will do is track tourists and legitimate long term residents; perhaps this is the real aim?

  6. Richard Jones 1

    What about Those Who Travel Without a Phone?

    Will they be barred from entering or is this just a way to track anything wrong that might be done?

    Draconian yes, doubtful value yes, but the list of place still good to visit grows shorter every day.

  7. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    So, two phoones then? One with the trackable SIM that just lies in a desk drawer all the time and the one for actual use with an imported, roaming SIM?

    BTW, which firm of consultants came up with this, and for how much?

    1. Nano nano

      ... and does he sell golf-ball detectors to Iran, to use as explosives detectors ?

  8. Baldy50

    The DPRK now allows foreigners to use mobiles in their country with restrictions.

    But who's to say this couldn't be used to track all of the time as well? Well done US gov, sneaky and more data sharing too!

    Shit they'd be able to see which brothels you prefer.

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge

    > the nation's telecoms regulators aren't entirely sure how to make the tracking work

    Are they seriously that incompetent?

    Cell towers track phone distance as a basic part of how they work. When you know where the cell towers are (and I assume the nation's telecoms regulators would!) then it's simple triangulation, and already built into the software.

    1. JetSetJim

      That's not that accurate a statement. Cell towers try and track timing advance so as to make sure that time-division signals fall within their specified bounds, but this is not a complete picture of where the mobile is - to do that properly you need information from multiple cells, and that isn't in the network.

      Another issue is that when the mobile is not actively doing anything (e.g. making a voice call), the network has near-zero visibility of how it moves beyond "is it in this large cluster of cells". Rummaging around, and there are various "on-SIM" solutions to continually monitoring device location, for example using a SIM that periodically bundles local RF measurements up (which the phone is doing anyway) and sends an SMS with them to a cloud server that processes them into a geolocation fix. This way means you can have a constant track on all phones with these SIMs in.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This is no different to what the majority of EU governments already do to their own citizens!

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Yawn

      Bit of a difference sometimes in governing style though.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yawn

        "... Bit of a difference sometimes in governing style though."

        Not really, actually.

        As a matter of passing interest, Thaksin, the former democratically elected dictator of Thailand and Commander in Chief of Corruption (no on the run for bail jumping with his ill gotten billions) was, to put it mildly, not very fond of foreigners.

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