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Senator supports SIM card registration bill but warns vs possible data exposure

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Senator supports SIM card registration bill but warns vs possible data exposure
Subscriber identity module (SIM) cards.
The STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Saturday warned that the proposed SIM Card Registration Act recently passed by her colleagues at the Senate may expose the data of users and embolden law enforcement agencies to abuse the information in their hands.

Senate Bill No. 2395 or the proposed SIM Card Registration Act was approved on third and final reading on Thursday. It seeks to eradicate criminal activities aided by mobile phones, the internet or other electronic communication devices.

But De Lima, a former justice secretary, flagged Section 5 of the proposed measure which requires public telecommunication entities to forward the registration information of users to a centralized database accessible to both the National Telecommunications Commission and the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

“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. 

The comment was submitted to the Office of the Chairperson of the Committee on Public Services and Principal Sponsor of the Bill, Sen. Grace Poe, last September 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." 

"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." 

De Lima: Leave data with telcos instead 

De Lima also argued that there is another method through which ownership registration can be effectively implemented: 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,” the senator 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."

According to De Lima, 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," she stressed. 

"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 providers." 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, also a former justice secretary, co-sponsored the bill with Poe. 

He introduced an amendment that would obligate social media platforms to require users to register their real names and phone numbers before creating an account. 

A counterpart measure, without the social media provision inserted by Drilon, was approved on final reading by the House of Representatives earlier this month. 

A bicameral conference committee will have to meet to reconcile disagreeing provisions. Their committee report would then have to be ratified by both chambers of Congress before the measure can be transmitted to the president's desk for approval. — Bella Perez-Rubio 

DATA PRIVACY

LEILA DE LIMA

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