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SIM registration, spying and the Thai digital economy

The laws in Thailand have not changed regarding pre-paid mobile phone registration but why then is the regulator suddenly playing hardball and enforcing their registration?

Prepaid began its life, like most things in Thailand, in a grey area. The country’s biggest telco simply went ahead and did it without any legal framework in place and when that telco is owned by the wife, children, maid and driver of the Prime Minister, officials just happened to turned a blind eye. Officially there was no conflict of interest as it was not owned by the Prime Minister of course.

Prepaid revenue share was also frozen at 20% and not increased in line with postpaid revenue share to 30% without any reason given. Not that anyone asked for a reason of course.

So unregistered prepaid just happened and then suddenly successive regulators tried to crack down on it. Tried and failed.

Forcing prepaid registration would have changed the dynamics of the market. With the two market leaders (AIS and Dtac) in the late 90’s having a much larger proportion on postpaid than the third place (TrueMove) it was clear that clamping down on unregistered SIMs would have affected True the most. With its political influence, such a shakeup was obviously not going to happen.

Fast forward to today what has changed?

On the one hand, subscriber numbers are no longer that slanted removing much of the market share balance argument.

On the other, there is the junta’s obsession with tracking down everyone with a republican bone in them, though in practice, all the key players seem to have no problem leaving the country and continuing their mockery from abroad.

Since coming to power, authorities have cracked down on open WiFi, enforced public WiFi registration and now drawn a line in the sand for pre-paid SIM registration. Anonymous communication is to be made impossible in Thailand.

More recently the cabinet approved 10 so-called digital economy laws that centralise power and put Thai cyberspace in a permanent state of martial law surveillance.

That the telecoms regulator's days are now numbered with the new frequency act means that the regulator have every reason to kowtow to the junta in the hope that they may be given the nod when a new regulator is selected.

On a side note, one day after the dear leader exploded at journalists defiantly saying that he would pass the cyber security spying bill no matter what, he gave a (relatively) more composed talk on the Ministry of Finance’s preparations for the 2016 budget about how the powers were needed in order to crack down on those insulting the monarchy and that he would not be using those powers to spy into people’s private lives.

“They blame me for not taking care of you. Now I am trying to do something and you are blaming me for infringing on your rights. Look at your phones. Is there any infringement?

“The law will have to go through three committees anyway, they will have their chance to oppose it in the legislature.

“Without these laws, we won’t progress. China has Alibaba and Ma. We only have 15-day sets for men’s sexual strength supplements on sale [online]. How can we let this continue?”

Yes. That explains everything.