SIM card registration: A double-edged sword?

BAR NONE - Ian Manticajon - The Freeman

On July 25, the country marked the culmination of a nationwide drive to register SIM cards. According to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), more than 105 million or over 60% of the total number of active SIM cards in the country are now officially registered.

Buying a SIM card now requires buyers to show valid proof of identity. Currently, I use one SIM card attached to my post-paid Globe account. As for my pre-paid SIM cards, which I kept as backups for online data in case our postpaid wifi went down, I let them expire without registering them. I value a simple life with minimal hassles, so I find that one phone and SIM card suffice for all my needs.

The effectiveness of the SIM Card Registration law in curbing tech-enabled scams and enhancing national cybersecurity and accountability awaits assessment. I join others in hoping that this marks the beginning of an era where trolls and other anonymous social media users will think twice before using their mobile numbers to create or link to existing accounts.

Before the SIM card registration law, SIM cards in the country could be purchased anonymously. As a result, individuals used these cards to sign in and validate their identities as real persons. This facilitated the proliferation of inauthentic networks and activities, including bots and troll farms.

However, many still harbor reservations and concerns about the law’s real-world impact. The concerns of one senator about the trading of registered SIM cards on the black market serve as an example. Clearly, this illicit trade aims to mask the actions of scammers, using others' identities as shields.

The alarming rise in SIM-based crimes --totaling 4,104 in the first half of 2023 alone, according to a report by The Philippine STAR-- further emphasizes the pressing need for a system that keeps individuals accountable. At this juncture, we cannot use it as a reason to revert to the days of anonymous SIM card ownership.

However, while acknowledging the benefits, it's also essential to address the reservations. Critics point out the potential constitutional concerns regarding mandatory SIM registration. They argue it might infringe upon the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech and violate rights against unreasonable searches, seizures, and substantive due process. But the Supreme Court already denied the request to halt SIM card registration in April.

Yes, this policy can be abused by state agents and the government, potentially making SIM card registration a tool for extrajudicial surveillance. We must address such grievances and prevent any potential abuses. However, we must also realize that, technologically speaking, any information on digital platforms can be subject to spying in one way or another. It's simply impossible to maintain 100% privacy in digital networks.

With our without SIM card registration, here's some practical advice I received from an expert at the National Computer Center: If you wish to keep something secret, avoid the digital route. Opt for the manual, traditional, analog method instead.

In the final analysis, SIM card registration is but a tool. Like any tool, its usefulness depends on the hands wielding it. While we welcome the promise of a safer, less scam-prone digital landscape, we must also continue to be vigilant to ensure that in the pursuit of security, our privacy and free speech remain unscathed.

Also, while SIM card registration can be a tool to suppress online scams, trolls and disinformation, it's not a complete solution on its own. Addressing these digital challenges demands a multifaceted approach, encompassing digital literacy initiatives and effective rules from social media platforms.

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