A weapon that invades our privacy

By Joemar Yubokmee Jr.

Cartoon by Francesca Diane Tan





With the Senate Bill 2395 or the SIM Card Registration just waiting for the final signature of the president, Democracy.Net.Ph, an internet and information and communications technology (ICT) rights advocacy group, strongly urges the president to cast a veto vote on the said bill.


According to section three of the said bill, its intent is to deter the proliferation of SIM card-aided crimes, such as but not limited to terrorism; text scams; unsolicited, indecent, or obscene messages; bank fraud; and massive disinformation, which cause chaos and disorder, all telecommunications and SIM card sellers shall require the registration of SIM cards as pre-requisite to its sale.

            

At first blush, this seems to be the solution to the widespread disinformation rampant on social media sites, with fake news purveyors hiding behind anonymity. Bill authors comment that registration of SIM cards, which is one of the more accessible methods to create a social media account without disclosing their email addresses, would lessen disinformation among numerous crimes mentioned above, which is a high time considering how disinformation is playing a vital role in the nearing May 2022 polls. Furthermore, this would also pave the way to making criminals involved in phishing incidents that lead to unauthorized banking transactions accountable. 

            

Nowhere in the six-page bill gives a walk-through on how the bill would accomplish the intentions mentioned earlier. Instead, it restricts the subscribers of their privacy. Section four of the bill provides that all subscribers, existing or new, must achieve a duly accomplished control-numbered owner's registration form and present a valid ID. Telecommunication firms as well as a plethora of government agencies store records of one’s name, contact number and other highly confidential information makes these data susceptible to hacking which the bill is unable to address since it did not provide any safeguards to prevent such instance. Although it did mention cash penalty and imprisonment, these are reactive measures and would not ensure data privacy. It would only penalize individuals involved in the data breaching crime and not the telecom.

      

Moreover, since the registration is online, many subscribers may be unable to register since not everyone has a smartphone. According to the National Telecommunications Commission, the number of mobile subscribers in the Philippines amounted to roughly 149 million; of it, only 79 million were smartphone users. Interestingly, the bill's long title is, An Act to Eradicate Mobile Phone-Aided Terrorism and Criminal Activities, Mandating for This Purpose Ownership Registration Of All Sim Cards For Cellular Phones. This mentions terrorism, and given the expansive definition of terrorism provided by the Anti-Terror Bill as well as the massive red-tagging made by the likes of Remulla and Sen Ping Lacson, the SIM Card Registration Act might be weaponized to obtain confidential information on mere suspects of terrorism without their knowledge and consent making it borderline invasion of privacy. 


According to the Democracy.Net.Ph group, the bill downplays and robs us the additional security that anonymity vital to people of certain stature like celebrities, influencers,Phone numbers and private information of low-lying citizens might be hacked in a centralized domain. They might be subjected to scams and spams if vital details in the said domain get compromised.

          

Systemic issues like disinformation and other online delinquencies will not be solved by rushed, unthought, and ineffective laws, especially if such laws push for the storage of private data that might be used to destroy our privacy and might be weaponized to spy over those who are  critical of the government. Our privacy rights must always be upheld. The President must veto the SIM Registration Bill because our rights to privacy and anonymity are integral safeguards in an online world rampaged by scams and criminal activities.






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