Instead of preventing SMS-aided crimes and disinformation, the SIM Card Registration Act would only arm the government to intensify its surveillance operations against its critics, said internet rights group Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU) in an online forum held last March 2.
The bill would mandate all Filipinos to present a valid government-issued identification card before the activation of their SIM cards. Those who already have an existing SIM card, meanwhile, would still be obligated to register their information within six months after the passage of the law. Failure to do so will result in the deactivation of their SIM cards.
Social media users would also be required to use their real name and contact number in their account profile. This means that creating multiple anonymous social media accounts will already be a punishable offense.
The bill would automatically become law on April 17 should President Rodrigo Duterte fail to veto the measure. The CPU and the UP Internet Freedom Network are still waiting for the release of the bill’s implementing rules and regulations before deciding on their next steps for their campaign to block its implementation.
For the CPU, the provisions on social media and SIM card registration may violate Filipinos’ freedom of speech and the right to privacy as anonymity provides a safe space online for activists, whistleblowers, and the LGBTQIA+ community.
And despite the new sweeping powers the proposed law would give the state, the bill does not provide any information on how the government would be able to monitor the millions of social media accounts in the country.
The CPU pointed out that there was no provision in the bill requiring existing social media accounts to change their profile to reflect their real names, which will still allow online troll accounts to propagate disinformation even with such stringent measures.
“Vague yung mga provisions sa batas at puno ito ng loopholes kaya maaari pa rin itong ma-circumvent ng scammers at online troll farms,” said Francis Malayao of the CPU. “Dito natin nakikita kung gaano hindi pinag-isipan yung batas, at ang dahilan lang kung bakit ito gustong ipasa ng gobyerno ay para paigtingin lang yung surveillance operations nito.”
The data acquired during the SIM card registration will be stored in a central database maintained by the Department of Information and Communications Technology. However, the groups doubt whether the state can protect their data, given the government’s “poor” response to the recent alleged data breach in the Commission on Elections.
The measure would also allow for law enforcement officials to access an individual’s sensitive information by the virtue of a court order.
“This measure, which was supposedly crafted to protect us, actually leaves individuals much more vulnerable as it allows state forces to look into your data and process it,” said Sonya Castillo, vice president of UP Internet Freedom Network, adding that the SIM Card Registration Act may be used by state agents, along with the other surveillance laws in the country, to profile and harass activists.
In 2012, the Cybercrime Prevention Act criminalized online libel and allowed the government to collect and inspect an individual’s real-time computer data. And just last 2020, the Anti-Terrorism Law was enacted, permitting the state to “secretly wiretap and record private communication and data from individuals suspected of being a terrorist or committing a terrorist act.”
More than 155 countries have already enacted similar laws requiring the registration of SIM cards. However, Mexico repealed its mobile card registration law in 2012 after finding out that it was ineffective in curbing crime. The CPU hopes that the public outcry against the violations of the SIM Card Registration Act in the right to privacy may eventually pressure the government to repeal the measure.
“Pinagpaigting pa natin yung kampanya against sa bill na ito kasi kung sakaling hahayaan nalang natin ito na ma-implement, paniguradong mahi-hinder tayo na i-express ang ating dissent at maging involved sa ating mga communities dahil sa takot na baka minamanmanan na tayo ng ating gobyerno online,” Malayao said. ●
Feb 28, 2024
With the NPU Bill striving to privatize and commercialize PUP, student leaders assert budget increase to the university and academic freedom.
Feb 28, 2024
NUPL-Cebu called for an investigation into the nature of the death of Bilar 5, adding that they have received reports of possible violations of the International Humanitarian Law.