In an effort to curb cyber scams, the government is looking towards mandatory sim card registration. The House of Representatives approved a bill on registering both pre-existing and new sim cards on Sept. 28. House Bill No. 14 was authored by house speaker Martin Romualdez, along with Representatives Ferdinand Alexander Marcos, Yedda Marie Romualdez and Jude Acidre.
On Oct. 10, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. signed the bill into law. It’s important to note, though, that the law will only take effect 15 days after its publication on a newspaper of general circulation or the Official Gazette.
The law’s premise is to help fight spam text scams by registering the owner of a sim card before activating. If passed, people with already active sim cards must register within an allotted time period in order to retain their number.
In order to register their sim cards, people must submit a valid, government-issued ID to verify their identity. Otherwise, the sim will remain deactivated and unusable.
“This act will not only help promote responsibility in the end-users of SIMs for electronic devices but also provide our law enforcers the necessary tools to resolve crimes involving telecommunication devices,” said Romaldez.
Not everyone is sold on the idea, though.
Gabriela Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas voted no to the bill, citing potential data privacy, personal safety, and state surveillance concerns.
“This proposed SIM card registration bill… gives a false assurance that once all SIM cards are registered, purveyors of spam messages and trolls will be flagged—when in reality, these crimes and acts will not come to a halt,” said Brosas during one of the bill’s readings.
“We have seen how current data privacy measures of government agencies have been ineffective and weak, leading to serious and still unresolved data breaches. Worse, state security forces have been using registered personal information of critics for state surveillance and targeted attacks,” she continued.
Former president Rodrigo Duterte also vetoed the first ratified version of this bill in April this year, because the earlier version included mandatory registration of social media accounts.
Since being approved by Congress, the bill has removed the social media provision.
The bill also faced criticism from IT and computer professionals.
“Given the poor implementation of the Data Privacy Act (DPA) and a culture that does not yet appreciate our right to privacy, this is an additional risk to the people,” said Computer Professionals Union (CPU) secretary general, Kim Cantillas.
Unfortunately, these concerns are not unfounded.
Cybersecurity has been an issue as of late. In January 2022, there was an alleged hacking incident and data breach on the Comelec (Commission on Elections) server. These claims, though, were unilaterally denied by then Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon.
For the 2022 elections alone, there were over 20,000 hacking attempts to sway the results of the elections. National security adviser Hermogenes Esperon said that all of the attempts were successfully warded off by the Department of Informations and Communications Technology (DICT).
Aside from being a threat to a free and fair election, these hacking attempts were also a threat to the personal data of voters.
While all of these hacking incidents were foiled by the government, the sim card registration law could potentially be an avenue for hackers to access important personal information.
Now that the bill has passed into law, the government must take the appropriate measures to ensure the safety and security of the information of its citizens.