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House OKs bill mandating SIM card registration

By AYIE LICSI Published Dec 06, 2021 7:43 pm

The House of Representatives has approved the bill requiring the registration of SIM cards on Dec. 6.

The Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card Registration Act, or House Bill 5793, received 181 yes votes, six no votes, and zero abstentions.

Under the measure, public telecom entities (PTE) and direct sellers shall require end users to present a valid ID when purchasing SIM cards. The purchase may be withheld pending submission of the requirements.

On the seller side, PTEs must submit a list of verified dealers or agents to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) every quarter of each year under the measure.

Existing prepaid subscribers, including foreign nationals, will have to register their SIM cards with their respective telcos. Prepaid users have 180 days to comply, and failure to do so authorizes PTEs to deactivate their services to the concerned SIM card.

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Data privacy concerns

With subscribers providing personal data such as their full name, date of birth, gender, and address to the PTEs and, in turn, the NTC, the bill has raised some concerns on data privacy.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, who voted against the measure, said that mandatory registration would be against Filipinos' right to privacy.

"Ang panukala na ito ay lumalabag sa 'right to privacy' ng mamamayang Pilipino, at sa loob ng panukalang batas na ito, madaling makukuha ng pamahalaan ang acces sa SIM card at makuha ang lahat ng datos ng subscriber na kayang ibigay ng mga telecommunications company," Zarate said.

On these concerns, the measure states that any information in registration will remain "absolutely confidential."

However, access to information will be granted in the following instances: upon written consent of the subscriber, upon a duly issued subpoena, or upon written request from a law enforcement agency in relation to an ongoing investigation.

Should an end user lose their SIM cards or need registered information changed, they have 48 hours to notify their PTE.

The bill's purpose is to "promote accountability" in the use of SIM cards and give law enforcement agencies the tools to "resolve crimes" involving the use of the modules.

In November, several subscribers received spam SMS messages which the National Privacy Commission tagged as smishing, a form of cyber attack. 

The Senate has also filed a similar bill proposing mandatory SIM card registration, which is pending second reading.