Released on 17 May 2020
Joint Statement “If ‘No One Left Behind’ applies, the denial of mobile services must be immediately reverted”
The case of cell phone owners who refuse to register their SIM cards using Face ID in the southern border provinces during the Covid 19 outbreak
For immediate release on 17 May 2020
Since 12 May 2020, the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) has received many complaints from cell phone owners in the southern border provinces (Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat) and the four districts of Songkhla (Chana, Thepha, Natawee and Sabayoy). These citizens are subscribed to the four major mobile service providers in Thailand, including CAT, DTAC, AIS and TRUE. Their mobile phone services have been blocked, making it impossible for them to use internet, and receive and place calls.
Previously, cell phone owners received an SMS informing them that every mobile phone user in the area is required to register their SIM card using Facial Recognition to confirm their identities. The SMS format varied slightly on a case-by-case basis but they were sent regularly since late 2019. The re-reregistration of SIM cards using Facial Recognition was required to happen before 30 April 2020, otherwise, users will be barred from using their mobile phones.
According to the testimony by the Legal Affair Division of the ISOC Region 4 that was forwarded to the House Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Human Rights on 4 December 2019, as of early December 2019, there are 1.5 million registered SIM card numbers in the southern border provinces, of which only 300,000 are postpaid numbers. The ISOC has ensured the registration of SIM cards using Face ID for 888,813 cases. The operation has been made possible by 7,305 military officers.
From our research, the blocking of mobile phone services during the Covid 19 outbreak amounts to a human rights violation in the following ways:
- The mobile phone operators disconnecting prepaid cell phone users from the network has caused widespread hardships among the people in the southern border provinces, especially given the Covid-19 outbreak. Prepaid cell phone users are mostly from low-income households that rely on access to online media. This is especially pertinent now due to the restrictions placed on freedom of movement during the sub district and village level lockdowns imposed due to Covid-19. These citizens need mobile services for their access to educational, healthcare and humanitarian support, etc.
1.1 Right to education. At present, schools for children and youth are closed and the government has initiated the launch of online education systems. By disconnecting citizens from mobile services, it inadvertently deprives them of their access to education. This is particularly detrimental considering that the access to education and quality of education in the southern border provinces are already inferior to other regions. This will inevitably exacerbate the education inequality in the area.
1.2 Freedom from want. According to the World Bank’s report, due to the high poverty rate, the ongoing security conflict, and the Covid-19 outbreak in the southern border provinces, a growing number of people in the southern border provinces have opted to earn income through online sales. By disconnecting these people from mobile services, it deprives them of the opportunity to lift themselves up from poverty and to earn income for themselves and their families.
1.3 Human Security and access to health services and humanitarian support. In regard to access to healthcare and humanitarian assistance, the disconnection of services deprives people who face sudden illnesses or severe accidents of the opportunity to seek urgent help. Without the ability to place calls for help, it is less likely that they will survive serious medical conditions.
- By requiring people to register their SIM cards using the Face ID technology and by setting the condition that their mobile services will be terminated if they fail to do so within the deadline, it is tremendous violation of fundamental human rights. When the cell phone users originally subscribed to the services, they were not subject to such terms and conditions. By denying them services, the providers could breach the business contracts they have with their subscribers. It could also be considered a violation of the right to privacy and of the right to communicate without any justification from applicable laws.
- The disconnection of mobile services for hundreds of thousands of prepaid cell phone users, targeting those in the southern border provinces, a Muslim-Malayu dominated region, could be seen as an act of radical discrimination according to the United Nations’ statement released on 6 April 2020 which states that “The COVID-19 pandemic vividly illustrates the importance of the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. This pandemic is essentially a global health threat. However, it has multiple implications for the enjoyment of civil and political rights because some of the measures taken by States to combat it impose severe restrictions on the freedom of movement and other rights. Thus, it is essential that the measures adopted by States to combat this pandemic are reasonable and proportionate to ensure protection of all human rights.” It could also be a breach to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to which Thailand is a state party, and to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand’s principle on equality and non-discrimination.
- In addition, the collection of mobile phone data using facial recognition technology has often led to the practice of racial profiling. Without careful use of such data, it could lead to wrongful arrests and convictions. Apart from perpetuating racial discrimination, it could even erode trust among the local citizens, causing greater unrest in the area.
Therefore, the four undersigned organizations urge the mobile service providers, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), ISOC Region 4, and the government to immediately stop denying services to cell phone users in the southern border provinces and to immediately reconnect them to their respective networks.
The undersigned organizations as of 17 May 2020
- Civil Society Assembly For Peace (CAP)
- NUSANTARA Patani
- Bunga Raya for Education
- Duay Jai Group
- Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)
- Children Protection Networks (CPN)
- Networks of those effected by special laws (JASAD)
- Fasay Foundation for children and youth well being
- Ban Pi lab kaew, Deep South
- Patani Human Rights Network (HAP)
- Deep South Watch – DSW
- Foundation for women empowerment and orphanage
- Chainarong Setchua , Mahasarakam University
- Suthichai Ngamchunsuwant, PSU
- Tirawat Kwanjai , PSU
- Anticha Saengchai , PSU
- Kua Litiboon , PSU Pattani campus
- Kusuma Kuyai, PSU Pattani campus
- Bandit Kraiwijit , PSU Pattani campus
 An example of the SMS is “ISOC Region requests that all cell phone users in the southern border provinces + 4 districts of Songkhla register their SIM cards using the Face ID by 31Oct 19. Check SIM status, press *165*5*ID Card no.#, place call. If the registration is not completed by the deadline, you will be barred from using the services. Listen to more information, press *915653, for Yawi, press *915654”
 The Statement on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and economic, social and cultural rights by the Committee on the Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, released on 6 April 2020