Bangkok - To prevent militants from using mobile phones to trigger bombs in the restive deep South, the Thaksin government wants telecommunications agencies and mobile phone operators to register all users of prepaid services. However, the plan has already attracted much criticism, with some calling it impractical and others wondering whether there are any commercial interests involved.
Under the plan, future buyers of SIM cards for prepaid phone services would have to produce identity cards for purchases, while existing users would have to prove their identity to mobile phone operators within six months, or else have their service terminated.
Mobile-phone operators would also be required to create a database of all their prepaid phone services.
The government hopes the plan will reduce the number of phone-triggered blasts in the deep South. Most of the more than 120 bombs detonated over the past 15 months are reported to have been triggered by mobile phones.
Two surveys showed much support for the plan by those living in Bangkok and its surrounding areas. However, leading Muslim leaders in Thailand have criticised the plan, saying it would do little to curb the southern bombings while violating individual privacy.
One telecom industry observer said the proposal was flawed.
“First of all, assuming that I provide my ID card, how can mobile operators possibly make sure I’m not providing them with fake documents. Besides, explosives can be set off in several ways,” the observer said.
Echoing the views of several other telecom observers, he said the Information and Communications Technology Ministry might have ulterior motives in drafting the plan. “How can the authorities guarantee that the personal details of all these people will not be misused by mobile operators and others?”
Thailand’s two English-language newspapers have different views on the plan. The Nation said the plan “is unlikely to stop terrorists from using handphones to set off explosives”.
“That the government’s registration drive - which was formulated by officials from the country’s top security agencies and the Information and Communications Technology Ministry - can be circumvented by even the pettiest would-be terrorist says a lot about the state of Thailand’s preparedness to fight a war against terrorism," it added.
While the Bangkok Post conceded that the registration plan is an “imperfect idea”, it is not “completely unreasonable”.
“It is wrong to expect the move to bring an end to bomb attacks by insurgents, but it would at least make life less convenient for those planning their next bomb attack," the paper said.
* Make life harder for the terrorists (Bangkok Post, April 21)
* Phone curb won’t stop hi-tech terror (The Nation, April 20)
*Mobile ID plan appears doomed (The Nation, April 20)