Author of social media registration bill decries 'too much democracy' online


MANILA, Philippines — Rep. Arnolfo Teves (Negros Oriental), who has filed a bill to require the registration of social media accounts, spoke on the House floor on Monday to complain about "online bashers" and of the Philippines having "too much democracy."

Teves' privilege speech comes as mobile phone users in the Philippines register their SIM card under a law that initially also sought the mandatory registration of social media accounts. Congress passed the law quickly in 2022 despite privacy concerns raised by groups like the Computer Professionals' Union, EngageMedia and Human Rights Online Philippines.

"Bashing on social media is too much, it doesn’t seem right. I think there needs to be a law for this," Teves, who did not directly call for support of his Online and Social Media Membership Accountability bill, said. He said that discipline should be emphasized over "too much democracy."

Teves — author of bills to name the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos and to recognize "ghosting" " as a form of emotional abuse — said he has critics on social media as well but said that he invites them to follow his accounts.

He told House colleagues that "[he] can’t discuss it now since there is a rule saying that if you have a bill filed, you can no longer include it in your privilege speech."

Teves' social media registration bill

House Bill 129 aims to discourage hate speech from anonymous users by requiring individuals to submit valid identification cards to register a social media account. The measure proposes unspecified fines against social media platform that fail to authenticate user accounts and that cannot provide user information in case of a lawsuit against a social media account on the platform.

"While the country has greatly benefitted from [social media's] bridging of both public and private spheres, like any other tool, the social media has been used as a mode to bully and harass individuals and institutions," Teves said in his explanatory note to the bill.

The bill has been pending with the Committee on Public Information since July 2022.

The bill’s provisions on authentication are reminiscent of the old provisions in the original version of the SIM Card Registration Act, which then-President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed for requiring social media account holders to provide their “real” name and phone number. 

Privacy and the right to anonymity

The Asia Internet Coalition in 2022 flagged the SIM Card Registration Act over the security risks posed by its mandatory collection of information, which would put individuals in vulnerable groups "at risk of tracking and targeting, increasing the chances of their private information being misused." 

The group, which is the sole trade association of Internet companies in Asia, also opposed the registration requirement due to the potential harm it will cause to people who "use social media as a safe space to explore their identity, find support and manage boundaries safely under a veil of anonymity."

In a related statement, 11 human rights organizations — including ARTICLE 19, which focuses on freedom of expression — also voiced their concerns on mandatory social media registration, saying "prohibitions of anonymity interfere with the right to privacy and freedom of expression, protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a party."

The groups added that, according to a 2013 report by Frank La Rue, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, that "restrictions on anonymity 'facilitate State communications surveillance' and 'have a chilling effect, dissuading the free expression of information and ideas'." — with Cristina Chi




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