Military says it obtained location data from telecoms to fight COVID

The Ministry of Defense yesterday admitted to requesting location data from the nation’s mobile phone operators. 

Saying it was meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections, Gen. Raksak Rojpimpan, director of the ministry’s policy and planning department, confirmed the authenticity of a leaked document detailing the order, which instructed telecoms to disclose the whereabouts of people known to be infected with COVID-19.

The document detailed an April 7 meeting at ministry headquarters attended by representatives from major public and private operators such as Advanced Wireless Network, DTAC Trinet, True Corp., TOT and CAT Telecom. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the state regulatory agency, was also represented.

Raksak responded Monday by saying there were “good intentions” to the meeting with the telecoms, as they wanted to prevent further COVID-19 infections in the kingdom, especially at venues where crowds gather, such as boxing stadiums or nightclubs.thai

“If we had the location logs of 2,800 people at the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, we would have been able to send a text and warn them immediately,” Raksak said.

The army-owned stadium was the source of a mid-March outbreak that saw more than 200 people contract COVID-19. 

It’s unknown how many people’s records were obtained by the military.

Why the military was involved and why it was kept secret from the public was not explained.

Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich, Defense Ministry spokesperson, denied that the military demanded the network operators surrender the private information, saying it doesn’t have that authority. None of the telecoms involved has addressed the matter publicly.

The meeting minutes were posted online Monday morning by writer Sarinee Achavanuntakul. They were issued and signed by Raksak. The April meeting came one month before the government launched its controversial Thai Chana (Thailand Wins) tracking system. 

Since Thai Chana launched, members of the public have been asked to “check in” at most venues, including shopping malls, 7-Eleven convenience stores, shops and restaurants by scanning a QR code or signing into a log book.

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