President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday signed the Sim Card Registration Act into law to address text and online messages scams.
It is the first law signed by Marcos since he assumed office last June 30.
The law seeks to provide “accountability in the use of SIM cards and aid law enforcers to track perpetrators of crimes committed through phones,” said Office of the Press Secretary officer-in-charge Cheloy Garafil.
Under this law, those who already own a SIM card would be required to register with telcos within a given time period. Failure to do so would result in deactivation of SIM cards.
The law also directs telcos to disclose the full name and address of SIM card owners upon a subpoena or order of a court.
Some Filipinos celebrated the measure’s passage as they saw it as a solution to curb spam texts and online crime.
“Maganda yan dapat noon pa! Dito sa ibang bansa rehistrado ang SIM cards namin. Pag may ginawang kalukuhan mabilis ma-detect ang identity,” a Facebook user said.
“This is a very monumental achievement in our country! This law will prevent and reduce cases of crimes!” another wrote.
“Mabuti po at naisabatas na yan para maging accountable lahat ng gumagamit mobile phones,” an online user said.
Based on the initial findings of the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, Filipinos lost millions of dollars due to text scams.
‘Data privacy concerns, ineffective’
While others welcomed the bill’s passage, several groups and individuals expressed worries about the possible leakage of data and how it can be used to surveil individuals illegally.
These fears came despite the assurance of Marcos that the collected information will be confidential.
“The signed SIM Registration Act poses problems for privacy rights as the Philippine government is notorious for illegal surveillance and violations of data privacy,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes said in a tweet.
“The SIM registration can become a vast surveillance network used against the people,” Reyes added.
The Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU), a mass organization of information and technology practitioners, professionals, and advocates, ,likewise, condemned the measure.
“The CPU reiterates its stand that the mandatory SIM Registration puts at risk our right to privacy and data protection,” the group said.
The group also deemed the measure ineffective in fighting text scams and online crimes based on drawbacks experienced by other countries in implementing the law.
“It is ineffective and has its ill effects as seen in other countries that have implemented it,” CPU added.
Kabataan Partylist also shares a similar view about its ineffectiveness.
“Bagama’t binabanggit na ang batas na ito ay makakatulong sa pagsugpo ng mga cybercrime gaya ng mga text scam, pinapakita ng karanasan ng ibang mga bansa na ang pagpapatupad ng SIM Card Registration na hindi nito napigilan ang ganitong mga krimen,” Kabataan Partylist said.
In Hong Kong, where sim card registration is required, locals became more vulnerable to email scams rather than mobile-related crimes in the past year, said Lennon Yao-chung Chang, senior lecturer on cybercrime at the Monash University in Australia.
CPU, instead, suggested to “put in full force the administration and implementation of the provisions of the Data Privacy Act of 2012.”
“The way to solve crime is not through lazy bandage solutions, and definitely not through further endangering the public. Crime is rampant because of poverty, joblessness, inequality, and exploitation,” the group continued.
“Addressing these social ills should be the priority of the government while ensuring immediate action to resolve immediate concerns does not further exacerbate the people’s suffering or endanger them,” CPU said.