COMMENT: SIM Card Registration Act prone to abuse

·Contributor
·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: For sale SIM cards are laid out at a loading station for call and text message credits for local telecommunications companies at a store along a sidewalk in Metro Manila, Philippines November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
FILE PHOTO: For sale SIM cards are laid out at a loading station for call and text message credits for local telecommunications companies at a store along a sidewalk in Metro Manila, Philippines November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Calls to veto the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card Registration Act, which was recently passed by the House of Representatives and Senate, has been resounding the internet lately.

Organizations and individuals have been expressing grave concerns about their privacy and civil liberties being put in question, especially in a government such as the Philippines.

The Act proposes to eradicate mobile phone, Internet, or electronic communication-aided criminal activities. If passed into law, the Act will require the registration of SIM cards prior to their use and activation. The country has an estimated more than 120 million total mobile subscribers.

Lawmakers said that the Act will “deter the proliferation of SIM card, internet or electronic communication-aided crimes.” However, there are still ways to circumvent the SIM Card and Social Media registration. Countries such as Mexico and Pakistan who have passed policies like the SIM card registration act have seen an increase in crimes such as identity fraud.

According to Privacy International, SIM registration has not been effective in curbing crime but instead has fueled it. They said that states that adopted SIM card registration have seen the growth of identity-related crime, and have witnessed black markets quickly pop up to service those wishing to remain anonymous. SIMs can also be easily cloned, or criminals can use foreign SIMs on roaming mode, or internet and satellite telephones, to avoid SIM registration requirements.

Mobile users will be asked to provide their personal data, including sensitive personal information, to third-party resellers, which are frequently ill-equipped to handle such amount of data, making them more prone to data loss or misuse.

The more concerning fact of the bill is that it will also mandate social media companies to register the real names and phone numbers of individuals creating accounts on their platforms.

Anonymity does not equal crimes such as fraud, scams, and trolling, as this has also allowed many individuals in social media to express themselves without fear of surveillance from the government.

The law basically robs the Filipinos of security, especially for activists, human rights defenders, victims of domestic abuse and violence against women and children, among others, who wish to stay anonymous.

Furthermore, the passage of laws such as the Anti-Terror Law (ATL) and the recent crackdown and harassment on individuals and organizations, when paired with the Act could further threaten the safety of innocent individuals.

The ATL allows suspects to be detained without a judicial warrant of arrest for 14 days and can be extended by 10 more days, and placed under surveillance for 60 days, which can also be extended by up to 30 days, by the police or military.

In Section 11 of the SIM Card Registration Bill, it is stated that law enforcement agencies are allowed spoofing and the use of caller ID manipulation once it’s authorized by a court. The potential for abuse by authorities is high, especially since it can be used in surveilling progressives and critics.

The Act, paired with the Anti-Terror Law would only legalize invasion and surveillance by the authorities.

In a petition, which is now less than a thousand away from its goal, Computer Professionals’ Union said that “the bill's provisions offer no real solution to these problems and only limit our right to privacy and expose us to risk by consolidating personally identifiable information on a centralized server.”

Moreover, rights groups has also called it a "fascist and transphobic" bill because it penalizes the use of “fictitious names” or lived names for transgender people and other members of the LGBTQ+ community as part of their gender expression.

The SIM Card Registration Bill should be vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte before it lapses into law on March 4.

Pola Rubio is a news writer and photojournalist covering Philippine politics and events. She regularly follows worldwide and local happenings. The views expressed are her own.

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