Southern Thailand: The Bio-metric Laboratory of the State by Nisit Recorder

Southern Thailand: The Bio-metric Laboratory of the State

First Released at นิสิตรีคอเดอร์ – nisit recorder

On August 16, the subject of special law enforcement and violation of local rights in the southern provinces of Thailand was brought up at a panel of the People’s Liberation Party. This subject has the goal of emphasizing that there is a lack of news coverage for events occurring in the three southern Thailand provinces on mainstream media. This has led to most actions that violate human rights that occur in the southern provinces to be largely ignored.

Various policies and measures have been implemented and enforced in the area without the usual checks and consideration as a result of the “special laws” that have been around for over 16 years. These policies have often been used to ‘control’ and ‘monitor’ local citizens without regard for human rights as if the southern provinces are but a testing area for more forceful government policies.

One of these policies which is currently active in the southern provinces and has created large amounts of discord towards the local population is the collection of DNA samples and the registration of special SIM cards which can suggest that these are measures to be used for control in the future.

Recoder students invite readers to understand the measures and plight of the local citizens as well as to question the methods used by the government to expand their reach outside the laboratories.

What happened in the testing ground in the southern Thailand provinces?

Since 2012, there have been numerous complaints from citizens in the southern Thailand provinces concerning how there were DNA samples collected from Malay Muslim people in the area. Government officials responded with the reasoning that it was all done in order to create a database in pursuit of justice. However, the actual process was that villages were surrounded and blocked off and house to house searches were conducted in order to collect DNA samples, with special emphasis on Malay Muslim people in particular. Furthermore, there was no notification whatsoever from the officials and the citizens do not know what their DNA samples will be used for, how they will be used, or when the samples will be disposed of.

In 2019, it was found out that DNA collection practices were implemented as a step for military recruiting in southern Thailand provinces by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) 4 which confirmed that they were “collecting DNA to use as a database for forensic evidence in the case of violent crimes and incidents.”[2] They also reiterated that “If you are truly innocent, then there is no reason to worry about DNA testing.”[3] Military recruits are under a lot of pressure and they do not know that they have the right to refuse. Since they do not know, they agree to part with samples and agree to sign consent forms due to fear of their superiors. However, the current protests by local citizens and organizations in the area has resulted in no DNA samples being collected in the most recent set of new military recruits for southern Thailand provinces as of late July.

Another policy currently being enforced in the Southern Thailand provinces is the “Song chae” policy, which is a registration system for SIM cards in mobile phones. To use a mobile phone, the user must confirm themselves in the system using facial recognition software within a certain given time frame of usage, otherwise, their phone signal will be cut off. Once again, the ISOC 4 has explained the reasoning that the policy was implemented to control the usage of mobile phones of citizens in the area [4], as it had been discovered that a mobile phone were often associated in the incitation of crime.

However, complaints about the main issue with the policy all revolve around how citizens in the southern Thailand provinces are limited to confirming their identity through face recognition only. Despite the NBTC having specified alternative methods of identity confirmation, such as using national ID cards, it was found out that people who use these alternative methods to confirm their identity for their mobile phone SIM card were warned to repeat the confirmation process using the facial recognition method anyways. A part of the local population who are concerned with their personal information and safety and did not do the aforementioned registration for the policy had their phone signals cut since June, which was during the lockdown period due to the COVID-19 epidemic which had a rippling impact, since this was a time where all forms of communication are extremely important, more so than usual. “To surround a city through networks is enough, there is no need to surround it by force as well.” Pornpen Khongkajonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, commented on the policy.

Why is DNA collection and the “Song Chae” Policy a violation of human rights?

National security has been claimed to be the primary reasoning and driving force behind the DNA collection and facial recognition software requirement. However, this logic goes against human security of those living in the three southern provinces.

That is, storing this nature of information in this way deprives one of their privacy and threatens the overall welfare of the people, which can be seen in depravation of the right to life, personal information and non-discrimination.   

Information is an integral part of life and body, as it is the component that binds and confirms the humanity of a person, no different from flesh and body [5] and information pertaining to someone, no matter where it is or what form it takes, is extremely important to that person. As a security agency, how the government collects all this information creates fear for the people about how this information will be used. 

Due to this, information of a person is usually a private and exclusive matter. Disclosure of this information should only be under the discretion of the person who provided it. The owner of the information should have the power to disclose and to prevent public exposure of their information.

The right to personal information, or the right to privacy has the intention that you have power over your own information as a fundamental right since birth, and it is not something which has to be fought for, nor something that there has to be a law established for [6]. The compulsory DNA sampling and facial recognition database thus goes against human rights, and laws.

Moreover, since the enforcement of the aforementioned measures and policies occurred forcefully in the southern Thailand provinces, which has a majority of Muslims as the population, with the reasoning being to maintain stability in the country, shows that there is prejudice in the state’s thinking and reasoning against Malay Muslims in the southern provinces (Racial, religion, are stereotyped as rebels or terrorists). These measures are blatant racial discrimination and racial profiling, both of which are unconstitutional, as the constitution strives to ensure equality of all people in addition to prohibiting discrimination.

Therefore, these measures and policies are a threat to the population, and also interfere with the normal everyday life of citizens in the affected areas without reason.

If this is an infringement of rights, then why can the state implement these policies in the three southern provinces?

Even if the policies of DNA sampling and the “Song Chae” policy are channels of causing infringement of rights towards the local population, the state can exercise this power through “three special laws” namely, the Martial Law, Emergency Decree 2005 and the Security Act 2008, which are only applicable in the three southern provinces of Thailand.

The state enforces the aforementioned laws as the area of unrest is treated as a state of exception that poses a threat to security. Thus, the state can therefore expand by investigating through looking for evidence, suspects, and use special methods, such as DNA sampling, and the implementation of the “Song Chae” mobile phone SIM card registration policy.

Officers operating in the state of exception and under the special laws, therefore have a significantly wider scope of power, since the special laws state that officers are ‘not subject to civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability as long as the act is within just case and not discriminatory’ [7]. In addition, as there are multiple special laws layered over on top of each other, further strengthens the power and legitimacy of those government officers.

However, the state of exception and these laws made for special emergency conditions in the area, have turned into normal everyday conditions for the citizens in the southern provinces for the past 16 years through renewal of these special laws of the ISOC and the National Security Council with virtually no investigations or balance checks from the lawmakers or judiciary whatsoever.

The trend of ‘controlling’ and ‘observing’ outside the laboratory

Despite constant opposition from civil society organizations and the local population to stop the excessive abuse of state power, there are currently still complaints from people who have had their privacy rights infringed on through the previously mentioned policies to this day. In addition, we cannot be sure that these government measures and policies are used only in the three southern Thailand provinces, since a success in the state laboratory there can potentially result in an expansion of state power that violates people’s rights in other areas of Thailand.

We are beginning to see a tendency for storing DNA information of innocent people, whom are not suspects, including military recruits in the three southern provinces since 2019 and the Yala provincial Task Force Deputy Commander also admitted that DNA collection of reserve soldiers in the three southern provinces is merely a pilot, of which there are plans that it will be expanded to other provinces throughout the country. [8]

As for the ‘Song Chae’ policy, we are seeing increasing amounts of facial recognition to confirm identity when purchasing a new mobile phone in stores throughout Thailand, in addition to the development of the application ‘Song Chae Identity’ by the NBTC on an ongoing basis [9]. Though to this day, no agency has released a response concerning the transparency of the usage and storage of information related to private citizens on applications. Furthermore, high ranking officials in these agencies often display a lack of understanding of basic human rights issues. The response from ISOC concerning the issue of forcefully cutting the phone signal of those in the southern provinces of Thailand [10] believes that their policy is “correct and within the law” and referenced the special laws on security, and also mentioned that the policy “is in accordance with human rights, does not increase the burdens of the local population, and does not involve discrimination nor infringe upon any rights of any kind.” Lastly, ISOC did not properly acknowledge the issues of the population, and simply claimed that “there had been no complaints from users so far.”

On one hand, it can be seen that the ‘Song Chae’ policy can improve user confidence, and also that DNA information storage can be seen as beneficial for the justice process. However, it must also be acknowledged that the relevant authorities cannot address the worries of the public, including whether the information is stored and organized in a database or not, how and where it is stored, and if it is, what is the information going to be used for? Another question to ask is who has access to this wealth of private information? In truth, these concerns are justifiable as a basic right for the owner of the information to query about the status of their private information and data and they deserve a truthful and direct answer for their questions.

In order to not have to worry that our state will use our own information and data to ‘observe’ or ‘control’ us, regardless of whether we are ‘within’ or ‘outside’ the laboratories that are the three southern Thailand provinces.

Thai version:

References:

[1] https://www.southernreports.org/2019/04/05/321654/

[2] As previous

[3] https://www.benarnews.org/thai/news/TH-conscription-dna-07172020155705.html

[4] Documents that answer complaints about mobile phone user issues in the southern Thailand provinces can be found at: https://voicefromthais.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/reply-letter-from-isoc-related-to-complaints-on-disconnecting-phone-during-covid19-17-july-2020.pdf

[5] “Privacy: Thoughts, Knowledge, Truth and Development. The story of protecting private information for Thai citizens” Author: Dr Nakorn Saerirak, Published by: Fa Aan

[6] As previous

[7] Section 17 of the Emergency Decree, 2005: https://library2.parliament.go.th/giventake/content_give/em160748.pdf

[8] https://www.innnews.co.th/regional-news/news_366176/

[9] Website recommending application can be found at: http://prepaid.nbtc.go.th/new/

[10] Document answering complaints by ISOC

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