GPS tracking is Big Brother

GPS tracking is Big Brother

In his efforts to tackle the country's notorious road slaughter, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob has come up with a "Big Brother" touch. For the sake of safer roads, he has proposed that Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers be installed in all privately owned vehicles to monitor drivers and punish those violating speed limits and other traffic laws.

This is a poorly thought-out proposal. If enforced, it would be an outright violation of individuals' right to privacy and confidentiality, amounting to state surveillance of citizens.

On Monday, the minister said he had given the Department of Land Transport (DLT) one year to look into the possibility of installing GPS in private cars and motorbikes. If the policy is adopted after the study, Thailand would be the first country to introduce such a measure, he said. And he is right. Thailand would be the first and probably the only country to let authorities keep tabs on individuals' movements without a court warrant.

The minister seems to have mainly focused on the need to monitor speeds, without taking into account another dimension, which is location. If this idea becomes policy, authorities could spy on the whereabouts of all car owners at all times from the moment they leave their house right up until when they arrive at their destination.

Additionally, allowing authorities to obtain information on individuals' whereabouts could lead to misuse. Information could be leaked, or used by other state agencies which, for instance, yearn to keep a close watch on dissidents.

In making his case, the minister cited the country's current use of GPS trackers in public transport vehicles. But he misses the point. Tracking speeds and locations of buses and vans is allowed since they are public transport service providers. It is a measure to ensure the efficiency and safety of public transport for consumers.

On the technical side, the proposed policy would simply not be practical. Currently, there are about 40 million cars and motorbikes registered with the DLT. How could authorities possibly keep track of all of them? In the end, enforcement will likely be done on a random and discriminatory basis.

Even if trackers are installed on newly purchased cars as the minister has proposed, the vast number of new vehicles registered each year makes the task impossible. It is also unfair to monitor new cars and let drivers of old cars get away with traffic violations.

Even if all cars are installed with GPS trackers, those who want to violate the law could still disable the devices.

Mr Saksayam undoubtedly has good intentions in tackling the country's road carnage, but the GPS solution he is proposing is not practical.

He should not forget about the cameras already installed on many roads to monitor traffic law violators. Those cameras do help track down lawbreakers but the road accident rate remains high as speed is not the only culprit. Thailand's road carnage is also caused by bad driving, disobeying traffic laws, weak law enforcement, poor road conditions and drink driving.

So the minister needs to start with ensuring that traffic laws are strictly, effectively and thoroughly enforced. He needs to ensure that proper driving lessons are given to people applying for driving licences. Raising awareness about safe and good driving behaviour is also important and it can start with students in schools.

There are so many tasks for Mr Saksayam to pursue, and none of them should involve spying on citizens' whereabouts.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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