MANILA – At first glance, mandatory SIM card registration looks good as it could be used to crack down on internet trolls and scammers.
An internet rights advocacy group, however, believes there are hidden dangers behind the measure that could lead to an increase in crimes such as extortion and even kidnappings.
Democracy.net.ph team member Carlos Nazareno said SIM card registration in countries such as Canada has been a failure after consultants said they could not find any proof that it increased security.
He noted that in Mexico, the SIM Card Registration Act was enacted in 2009 and then repealed in 2012 after crime increased because of the law. Instead of deterring crime, he said the law became an incentive for criminals to steal cellular phones for the SIM cards.
"Actually crime increased, that’s what happened in Mexico. So kidnappings, extortion calls, and assaults on civilians aimed at stealing cellular equipment increased in Mexico," he said in an ANC Rundown interview.
He noted that extortions and even kidnappings increased after SIM card registration data was leaked on the internet.
"In Mexico the registry got leaked to the internet and sold on the black market. I think it was sold for around 500 Mexican pesos which is about P1250. So ganoon kamura umikot siya sa internet," he said.
Nazareno expressed concerns about the Philippines’ capacity to keep a secure database of information obtained from Filipinos who register their SIM cards.
“In 2016 we had a Come-leak,” he said, referring to how the website of the Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) website was hacked a little more than a month shortly before the presidential elections that year.
“So the danger here is that when you put information in a central repository, and you can’t secure it, there’s the danger of stuff leaking. And I don’t think--it is very difficult for many companies to guarantee 100 percent security. Kasi, magagaling ang hackers eh.”
“If a company like Facebook with billions of dollars at its disposal wasn’t able to secure the data of people around the world…papano pa 'yung smaller companies? And let’s say entities sa Philippine government, ‘di ba?” he said.
Nazareno said provisions of the SIM card registration bill, which is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature, are vague since it creates new crimes that are undefined in law.
“Like trolling, and hate speech--I don’t think they’re defined in Philippine law, and then the spread of digital disinformation and fake news. And I think it’s very dangerous if it’s government which is going to define what disinformation is and fake news is,” he said.
He said he hopes Duterte thumbs down the SIM card registration proposal.
“So I think the president needs to veto this bill because it’s so dangerous. It actually puts children at risk,” he said.
“Imagine, if you need to register with your real name online, and your children create social media accounts, there’s a risk that their real names will be exposed to strangers on the internet. It opens them to harassment, doxing, scams, possibly kidnapping and even online sexual predators.”
“So let’s say you’re a parent, are you really going to let your kid go around giving their real name on the internet to strangers?” he said.
He also stressed that there are other steps that can be taken—aside from passing the SIM Card Registration Act—to crack down on cybercrime.
“What has to be done is due process. The (Philippine National Police), (National Bureau of Investigation), they need to get warrants from courts, serve the subpoenas to internet providers, social media providers, get the IP addresses, geolocations.”
“Itong bill na ‘to shortcut ‘to sa tingin namin eh,” he added.
--ANC, 9 February 2022