Thai phone users in restive south ordered to submit photos
BANGKOK : An order for mobile phone users in Thailand's restive south to submit a photo of themselves for facial recognition purposes is causing an uproar from opponents who see it as further curtailing the rights of the Muslim-majority population.
But an army spokesman yesterday defended the move, saying the facial identification scheme is needed to root out insurgents deploying mobile phone-detonated homemade bombs.
Thailand's three southernmost states - Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat - have since 2004 been rife with conflict between Malay-Muslim rebels and the Buddhist-majority state.
Now telecom companies are requiring all users of the region's 1.5 million mobile numbers to submit a photo of themselves for facial recognition purposes following orders from the army - a move that is drawing anger from rights groups as the deadline to register nears.
"In cases where the attacker uses a SIM card to detonate a bomb, we can trace the perpetrator," said Colonel Watcharakorn Onngon, deputy southern army spokesman.
Registration ends on Oct 31, and anyone who fails to submit their photo in the three southern provinces and four districts in neighbouring Songkhla province will have their mobile reception cut off, he said.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday also said the scheme provides "evidence" on who the real owner of each SIM card is.
He said: "People in the south are not complaining... they know it truly helps reduce violence."
Using such "flawed" facial recognition technology usually leads to "racial profiling and, in turn, wrongful arrests", according to a statement by rights group Cross Cultural Foundation . "The risks of racial discrimination may erode public trust in policing the region," it said.
Col Watcharakorn added that people with unregistered SIMs travelling to the three provinces will have no mobile phone access. - AFP