Senate approval puts vetoed SIM registration bill on track for comeback

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:30 p.m.) — The Senate passed Tuesday in a 20-0 vote on final reading a bill seeking to require mobile users to register SIMs in an effort to curb crime, despite previous warnings from ICT experts and rights advocates that this may not work and could even put personal information at risk.

The Senate’s approval of the measure puts SIM registration back on track for enactment after it was vetoed by former President Rodrigo Duterte over a social media registration provision that he found to be potentially unconstitutional. The House of Representatives approved its version of the measure last week.

This social media registration provision which triggered a rejection from Malacañang is no longer present in the measures approved by the Senate and the House.

READ: 'Mandatory SIM card registration puts privacy at risk, might not curb crime'

How to register

If enacted into law, Senate Bill No. 1310 would require all existing mobile users to register their SIMs with their telecommunications providers within 180 days from its effectivity. Users may ask the Department of Information and Communications Technology for an extension of up to 120 days to register their SIMs.

Failure to comply within the given timeframe would result in SIMs getting deactivated and would only be reactivated after being registered.

The bill also requires that all SIMs sold by telecommunications providers be deactivated first and would only be activated after registration.

The measure provides that mobile users would register their SIMs through an online platform provided by telcos where they can give their full name, date of birth and address, and present valid government-issued IDs or other similar documents or passports.

Minors will be allowed to register SIMs as long as they have obtained consent from their parent or legal guardian. 

Foreign tourists are required to register their SIMs by giving their full name, passport number and address, and by presenting their passport and proof of address in the Philippines.

Foreign workers or students are required to give their full name, passport number and address, along with their passport, proof of address in the Philippines Alien Certificate of Registration Card, and Alien Employment Permit or school registration and ID.

Should there be any loss or changes to a user’s information registered with the SIM should update their information through their telco’s registration facility.

RELATED: 'Even Rizal used a pseudonym': Duterte urged to veto SIM card registration over privacy concerns

Where does all that information go?

All this information will be stored by telcos in a centralized database which “shall strictly serve as SIM register” for the purpose of activating or deactivating subscription and “shall not be used for any other purpose.”

The bill requires telcos to ensure that mobile users’ data are “secure and protected at all times” and for them to follow the minimum information security standards prescribed by the DICT.

Information obtained through registration can only be disclosed in the following circumstances:

  • In compliance with any law requiring telcos to disclose such information in accordance with the provisions of the Data Privacy Act of 2012
  • In compliance with a court order or legal process
  • Upon the issuance of a subpoena pursuant to an investigation of a sworn complaint that a specific mobile number was or is being used in the commission of a crime and that the identity of the perpetrator cannot be ascertained
  • With the written consent of the subscriber, provided that the waiver of confidentiality will not be made as a condition for approval of subscription agreements

What are the penalties?

Should telcos disclose subscriber information outside of these circumstances, they will be meted with a fine of up to P300,000 for the first offense, up to P500,000 for the second offense and up to P1 million for the third and subsequent offenses. The same penalties will apply for telcos that do not comply with court orders and subpoenas.

Telcos that do not follow the registration requirement the bill proposes would be fined up to P300,000 for the first offense, up to P500,000 for the second offense and up to P1 million for the third and subsequent offenses.

Those who use fictitious identities to register a SIM will be punished with at least six years in prison or fined up to P200,000 or both.

Spoofing, defined under the bill as “the act of transmitting misleading or inaccurate information about the source of the phone call or text message,” will be banned and punished with at least six years in prison or a fine of up to P200,000 or both. 

Under the bill, law enforcement agencies can still spoof SIMs and courts can still authorize caller ID manipulation.

At least six years of jail time or a P200,000 fine or both await those who sell fraudulently-registered or stolen SIMs.

Going after scam texts

With passage of the bill, Sen. Grace Poe said, the government will be able to go after random numbers sending text scams that have been plaguing the public for months now. 

"We have now in our hands the means to unmask criminals who have been hiding for so long under the protection of anonymity, and to bring them to justice," Poe said. 

"Meron na pong pwedeng gawin para makulong sila o magbayad ng malaking multa."

(We can finally hold them to account either by putting them behind bars or by asking them to pay a fine.)

Groups and individuals have sounded alarm over the spam messages, citing security risks and the possibility of a wide data breach. Some of the texts include a link, which leads to an almost official-looking website that would trick the user into divulging personal information.

Smart Communications, Inc. previously said that it is "highly possible" that foreign actors are involved in the scam texts plaguing the public. — with a report from Kaycee Valmonte

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