Telecom regulator to ask Cabinet to make registration part of national security policy
MANY people voiced support yesterday for the telecoms regulator’s plan to make it mandatory to register all mobile-phone SIM cards for security reasons, but they also cautioned about possible violations of personal rights.
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has said it will ask Cabinet to approve a plan to register prepaid mobile phone users as part of the national security policy.
It will also adopt the plan to use mobile phone numbers as personal ID for access to public Internet nationwide.
NBTC secretary general Takorn Tantasith said the agency would propose the plan, known as “Single Sign On”, to Cabinet to enact the registration process within six months.
Takorn said the policy was aimed at preventing the use of mobile phones in any way that could cause damage to the country or for illegal purposes.
The policy would also help state agencies to shut down websites containing lese majeste content and content that could affect national security. These kinds of websites violate Article 112 of the Criminal Code.
The NBTC has paid particular attention to mobile phone SIM registration as a matter of national security over the years. Unregistered SIMs have been used by terrorists to plant bombs, as well as for fraudulent and illegal businesses.
Years ago, the NBTC imposed regulations requiring operators to register the details of people who buy new prepaid SIM cards but few consumers cooperated, as they were reluctant to provide copies of their ID cards. The telecom firms have faced daily fines for failing to register prepaid users.
Of 110 million mobile-phone numbers currently in use in Thailand, 90 per cent are prepaid. But only about 10 per cent of the prepaid users are registered.
“SIM registration is the first step to force all to have individual numbers, then the next step is the ‘Single Sign On’ policy,” Takorn said.
The policy will require users of mobile phones to register their user name and password to access the Internet on all networks nationwide.
The NBTC introduced its “two-shots” application for smart-phone devices to telecom operators in the middle of last year to facilitate the registration process. As part of this, operators who sell SIM cards will download this application onto their mobile phones. They will use the app to take a picture of the SIM card code and the buyer’s ID card.
The app will then immediately send data to the NBTC’s computer server, connected with the servers of the five telecom operators. The NBTC server will verify the identity-card information and, if correct, send the verified data back to the telecom operator’s server, to activate the SIM card.
The data will not be stored on mobile phones of shop staff, so buyers need not worry about security. Expats who don’t have Thai ID cards can use passports.
However, only 1.3 million users have registered using this application.
All mobile operators said they back the policy but they want the government to make it a national policy to force people to comply.
Phone users said the authorities should be careful when citing “security” as the reason to enforce the law, saying it should not be used as an excuse for the government to infringe on the privacy of users. But the government should make the SIM card registration process as easy as possible to facilitate the estimated 20 millions tourists who visit Thailand for short periods who buy local SIM cards to use during their stay here.
Some said the regulator should improve its law enforcement. The law already exists but the problem is that regulators can’t enforce the law and SIM cards are too easy to buy.
Prinya Hom-anek, a cyber security specialist, said SIM card registration should have been done a long time ago. Many countries, such as Japan and Singapore, also have this kind of law. Other countries do not enforce SIM card registration because they have lawful intercept rules. Some countries, such as South Korea, require that not only every SIM card is registered, but also every mobile phone [IMEI or International Mobile Station Equipment Identity].
However, he said the regulator needs to be transparent and it should be investigated regularly.
Chyu Srimattayakul said the government and NBTC should conduct a public awareness campaign to let people know how many countries around the world require SIM cards to be registered and how they do that. The problem in Thailand is that users can use other people’s personal data when registering. For example, online game registration does not require users to show up to register.