Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima expressed alarm over a provision in the proposed SIM Card Registration Act which may expose the data of users and embolden law enforcement agencies to abuse the information in their hands.
De Lima refers to Sec. 5 of Senate Bill No. (SB) No. 2395, which requires the public telecommunication entity (PTE) to forward the registration information of users to a centralized database accessible by both the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
“The goals of the proposed measure are laudable and seemingly adaptive to the technological advancements of the new century, which is why, in principle, I have no objections to the proposed bill on SIM card registration, for as long as the intrusions on individual privacy it entails are narrowly tailored to achieve that goal,” De Lima said in a previous Comment on the Committee Report which endorsed the bill. Said Comment was submitted to the Office of the Chairperson of the Committee on Public Services and Principal Sponsor of the Bill, Senator Grace Poe, last Sept. 13, via email.
“However, if the measures go beyond achieving ownership registration, as is now effectively implemented among post-paid subscribers, then it becomes less of a safeguard for public interest, and more of an opportunistic measure taken by a government to impose a surveillance state on its citizenry,” she added.
Last Dec. 16, the Senate unanimously approved on third and final reading SB No. 2395 or the proposed SIM Card Registration bill, which seeks to eradicate criminal activities aided by mobile phones, the internet or other electronic communication devices.
Notably, the bill penalizes the use of fictitious identities to register SIM cards and the unauthorized sale of registered SIM cards.
De Lima noted that there is already a method by which ownership registration is most effectively implemented, particularly through a readily verifiable database in the possession of telecommunications service providers.
“The existing system for post-paid subscribers is not only effective for the purpose of ownership registration, it is likewise effective in serving as a protection against undue intrusions by the state or state actors,” she said.
“Therefore, that being said, my only objection is to Section 5, which requires the PTE to forward the registration info to a centralized database accessible by both the NTC and DICT,” she added.
The lady Senator from Bicol pointed out that not even post-paid subscribers are subjected to such kind of exposure of their data to the NTC and DITC by their private service telecommunications providers.
“The bill should only place the prepaid subscribers in the same footing as post-paid subscribers.
“This will be enough to discourage criminal use of SIM cards if the user will not be able to hide in anonymity and instead his information can be acquired upon legitimate request from his provider, the same way post-paid subscribers are discouraged from using their phones illegally as these can be directly traced to them by the provider,” she said.
“This provision is likely to embolden and empower law enforcement agencies to the point of promoting a propensity to abuse the information in their hands, since there is no other agency or branch of government that could effectively check their actions in accessing information that is already in their possession,” she added.
Except for Section 5, De Lima stressed: “I find nothing fundamentally objectionable to the bill, considering the rampant illegitimate use of prepaid SIM cards whose ownership cannot be traced.” (30)