Chinese spy agencies are pressuring Thailand to turn over data from its primary coronavirus-tracking application to allow Beijing to monitor mainland tourists while covertly expanding its influence in Southeast Asia.

The global rush to electronic solutions to track and trace those who come in contact with Covid-19 has created a juicy target for hackers and government intelligence services hungry for the treasure troves of personal and location data such apps collect.

While Google LLC and Apple Inc. have joined to produce the framework for such apps with best-of-class security and privacy, many countries, including Thailand, have devised with their own solutions with nowhere near the same protections – sometime intentionally.

Thailand’s Thai Chana track-and-trace solution – available either as conventional, downloadable software or a web app – was pillorized immediately upon its May launch as a Trojan horse for the military government to spy on its opponents.

But it quickly became clear that Thai Chana’s security holes were worse than the military’s potential to misuse the data centrally warehoused by the Public Health Ministry. Within days, fraudsters had begun spoofing the public with fake knockoffs to steal personal data.

The privacy uproar and technical complaints have faded in the months since – as has its use – but app “check-ins” still remain required at many locations and are getting a new emphasis as Thailand prepares to reopen slowly to foreign tourists, who will be pushed to use it.

That has not gone unnoticed by Beijing, as the first – and likely majority – of tourists returning to Thailand under the new Special Tourist Visa are Chinese. A tour group of 130 mainlanders will be the first to arrive under the STV Oct. 8.

They will be indoctrinated to use Thai Chana religiously and also are expected to be outfitted with GPS tracking bracelets.

According to a report published this week, China would like nothing better than to get their hands on Thai Chana data to its citizens, among other nefarious goals.

Thai Chana actually is based on a readily-available app called Mor Chana (Doctors Win) built by the Electronic Government Development Agency, a Thai government enterprise. It features GPS-based location tracking and Bluetooth Low Energy technology to alert a user if they come into contacted with someone identified as having Covid-19.

Beijing has made its approval of tourists’ trips to Thailand contingent on sharing Thai Chana and Mor Chana data.

Thai Chana was stripped down to be a QR code “check-in” app administered by state-run Krung Thai Bank run on Naver Corp.’s Line messaging app platform to allow the ministry to alert users that someone visiting a venue at the same time had been diagnosed with Covid-19. It later was turned into a downloadable app available from the Google and Apple stores.

By mid-June, the Thai Chana platform had more than 24 million users.

The Asia Times reported that Thai officials have acknowledged that foreign intelligence have expressed interest in obtaining personal data that Thai Chana and Mor Chana have gathered, which would allow them to monitor and surveil more than just health contacts.

The most pressure has come from Chinese security officers, efforts that have intensified as Chinese tourists book trips into the kingdom under the Special Tourist Visa, which requires them to undergo two weeks of quarantine in Phuket but remain the country for up to 270 days. Beijing wants to know what their citizens will be doing with all that time.

But Chinese security has requested personal data of not only their nationals, but Thais and other foreign nationals. The report claims that Beijing has made its approval of tourists’ trips to Thailand contingent on sharing Thai Chana and Mor Chana data.

To date, however, Bangkok has managed to rebuff China’s pressure, claiming technical incompetence in consolidating all the app data in one place. Thai officials said the data is distributed across the health and defense ministries and would be too difficult to compile.