All SIM card customers should sign in quickly

PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Monday signed into law a measure mandating the registration of all subscriber identity module (SIM) cards in the Philippines — a move welcomed by the country’s telecommunication players.

In a speech after signing the law, which critics say could lead to data breaches and privacy violations, Mr. Marcos reiterated that regulating SIM cards would help deter crimes committed through mobile phones.

The SIM Card Registration Act would “curb the spread of spam text messages and scams,” he said. “We will soon be able to provide law enforcement agencies the tools needed to resolve crimes perpetrated with the use of these SIM cards as well as providing a strong deterrence against the commission of wrongdoing.”

The law requires buyers of SIM cards to register prior to activation, while those already in circulation will be deactivated unless registered within a set period.

There are more than 120 million mobile subscribers in the Philippines, where scams using mobile telecommunications has been on the rise in recent years.

Under the law, telecommunication service providers or direct sellers shall require end-users to present a valid identification document during the SIM card purchase.

Telecommunication firms will submit a verified list of their authorized dealers and agents nationwide to the National Telecommunications Commission with updates every quarter.

The law penalizes the use of false or fictitious information and identities and the use of fraudulent documents in SIM card registration.

Collected data shall remain confidential unless subjected to a court order, with written consent of the subscriber, or upon written request from a law enforcement agency in line with a phone number used in the commission of a crime.

Globe Telecom, Inc. and Smart Communications Inc., two of the country’s largest telecommunication firms, welcomed the newly signed law, with the latter asking for more time to prepare.

“There is a clamor from PTEs (public telecommunication entities) like Smart to be given more time to prepare and test its systems to ensure the safety of the information that will be collected from prepaid subscribers,” Smart VP and Head of Regulatory Affairs Roy D. Ibay said in a statement.

“This industry-wide effort will impact not just the telecommunications companies but the thousands of retailers and millions of Filipinos using telco services as well.”

Globe, for its part, said the the full rollout of the National ID system should complement the new law.

On the other hand, an alliance of left-wing organizations in the Philippines said the new law poses threats to privacy rights “as the Philippine government is notorious for illegal surveillance and violations of data privacy.”

“We understand the recent concerns over online scams but sacrificing privacy is a more problematic response,” Bagong Alyansa Makabayan (Bayan) said.

The Computer Professionals’ Union, which is among the first groups to oppose the measure, has said it could violate freedom of speech and put at risk the lives of whistleblowers.

“The Marcos regime should instead put in full force the administration and implementation of the provisions of the Data Privacy Act of 2012,” it said in a statement on Monday. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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