SIM card registration may lead to 'heightened risk' of data breach: privacy body

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2021 03:14 PM

SIM card registration may lead to 'heightened risk' of data breach: privacy body 1
The National Privacy Commission said Wednesday it has "reservations" on the proposed SIM card registration bill, citing potential data privacy issues. ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - The National Privacy Commission on Wednesday said it has "reservations" on the proposed SIM card registration bills as it may lead to "heightened risk" of personal data breaches and has yet to be proven effective in reducing crimes.

The implementation of the proposed measure will entail "massive collection of personal data nationwide" and the privacy body is "quite unsure whether we can actually secure such a very large database," said Grace Villasoto, officer-in-charge of NPC's Privacy Policy Office.

"This may result in heightened risk of personal data breaches, unauthorized processing, intrusion into the privacy of people, and restriction of other rights and freedoms," she told senators.

"There may be 155 countries with mandatory SIM card registration but it was also reported there is really no empirical evidence yet that proves that mandatory SIM card registration directly leads to reduction of crime," she added.

The registration of SIM cards has proven effective in mobile governance and mobile commerce but not in crime reduction, according to Pierre Tito Galla of Democracy.net.ph.

Galla cited Mexico, where SIM card registration was pased in 2009 and repealed in 2012 after it was "found ineffective" and created black-market SIM card trading, SIM cloning, and petty theft, among others.

"In countries where SIM registration was implemented primarily for purposes of law enforcement, SIM registration has proved ineffective and has created new and additional criminal activities related to circumventing SIM registration," he said.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, principal author of one of the measures, said the NPC should suggest safeguards in protecting data privacy if the proposal is approved.

"The comment of the OIC doesn’t speak well to the existence of the Data Privacy Commission. We’re only 1 out of 6 countries that have a data privacy commission. We have a very robust Data Privacy Act and that’s precisely the reason why we enacted a Data Privacy Law to protect data privacy and find ways how to protect the privacy of our constituents," he said.

"Yes there is a data privacy issue here but we can find ways because we have a law that will protect our privacy and our data. We have a stringent law and powers to Data Privacy Commission to impose mechanisms and safeguards in order to protect our data privacy in light of this SIM card registration."

Gatchalian said he filed the bill after a bomb was detonated using a phone with a prepaid SIM card in Cagayan de Oro in 2013. The incident left several dead, including doctors.

He also cited his recent experience of fraudulent online banking where a hacker ordered some P1 million worth of food using his debit and credit cards. The hacker used a prepaid SIM to call his bank and change his number in order receive his account's one-time PIN (OTP), the senator said.

"Prepaid is a tool to enable our constituents to afford telecommunication and data consumption. Unscrupulous people have been using the prepaid to retrieve [data] illegally and also create crimes. It’s now become a tool for criminals," Gatchalian said.

The Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group received 16,110 reports in 2020, majority of which were related to online scams, online libel, computer-related identity theft, and violation of the Anti-photo and video voyeurism Act, said PNP deputy director for administration Police Col. Joel Doria.

Aside from data privacy, the NPC is also concerned of economic and social factors of SIM card registration, Villasoto said.

"Some might be digitally, socially, and financially excluded kung 'di sila makapagregister. We understand that if you're not able to register your existing prepaid ika-cut po ang service," she said.

(Some might be digitally, socially, and financially excluded if they can't register. We understand that if you're not able to register your existing prepaid service will be cut.)

Telecoms firms Globe, Smart, and DITO Telecommunity said they would coordinate with government if the measure is passed.

"I think it’s important there will be ample time in implementation of SIM card registration, pinakamalaking (the biggest) challenge is 'yung (the) timetable to register," said Ariel Tubayan, head of Globe's Corporate and Legal Services Group policy division.

"Since we are just starting up and setting up our systems, it’s going to be easier for us to be able to make SIM registration a part of our process," said Adel Tamano, chief administration officer of DITO Telecommunity.

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