President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. on Oct. 10 signed into law the SIM Card Registration Act—amid the spread of spam and scam texts, most of which bear the full names of unsuspecting Filipinos.
The SIM Card Registration Act, the consolidated version of the 19th Congress, is the first bill that Marcos approved during his six-year term.
Marcos signed the bill at the Ceremonial Hall in Malacañang, as announced by the Office of the Press Secretary in a Facebook post a day before, Oct. 9. The ceremonial signing was attended by several lawmakers led by House Speaker Martin Romualdez, the president's cousin.
The original bill passed by the 18th Congress was supposed to be signed last April, but former president Rodrigo Duterte vetoed it due to a provision that also required social media registration, in which users must go by their real names. Duterte cited the need for a "more thorough study" amid individual privacy and free speech concerns.
As the newly signed measure's full text has yet to be uploaded on the Official Gazette, here's what you need to know so far.
How does the SIM Card Registration Act work?
Under the measure, all public telecommunication entities—or telephone companies like Globe, Smart, DITO—and authorized sellers must require end users—Fiipinos and foreigners alike—to accomplish and sign in three copies a numbered registration form.
This registration form includes an attestation that the person appearing before the seller is the same person who accomplished the document, and that they presented valid identification cards.
Telco companies and authorized sellers cannot sell a SIM card if the customer refuses to comply. The telco companies must submit a verified list of authorized sellers to the National Telecommunications Commission—updating it every three months.
What's in the registration form?
The form shall indicate the subscriber’s name, date of birth, gender, address as found in a valid ID with photo, assigned mobile number, and serial number.
Does it cover prepaid or postpaid SIM cards?
The consolidated bill of the Senate and the House requires prepaid and postpaid subscribers to register their SIM cards. As the bill is being slowly rolled out, only postpaid users are required to register their SIM cards at the moment.
What happens to my personal information?
The personal information and mobile numbers will be stored in a central database, as also provided to the National Telecommunications Commission. It shall be treated as "absolutely confidential," unless the subscriber says otherwise in writing.
The data, however, may be accessed through a court order or a written request from a law enforcement agency in relation to an investigation of an unlawful act involving the use of a mobile number.
What if there's a data breach?
Erring telcos, including their officers, will be slapped with a fine of up to P300,000 for the first offense, up to P500,000 for the second offense, and up to P1 million for the third and any succeeding violation.
The operations of unruly authorized sellers will be suspended, on top of a fine ranging from P5,000 to 50,000.
Offending officers or employees of an implementing agency shall be dismissed from the service and fined, without prejudice to the filing of appropriate criminal, civil and, administrative charges.
Even before Marcos signature and even before Duterte's veto, concerned groups already raised issues about the bill.
In February, non-governmental organization Democracy.Net.PH said that despite the good intention to curb cybercrime, there's a "cybersecurity disaster in the making." It cited the government's data leak track record, as well as what happened to Yahoo in 2013 and 2014 and Facebook in 2019 and 2021.
"Should these reoccur and citizens’ names and phone numbers leak, it will open them to harassment, identity theft, financial crime, and other forms of harm," the group said on Feb. 25, adding that the bill poses a "dire threat" to children's safety because using their real names on social media might expose them to harassment, doxing, scams, kidnapping, even child sexual predators.
LGBTQ+ activist group Bahaghari on Feb. 26 said that not only the bill would become an instrument for worsened state terrorism, intensified red-tagging, and suppression of freedom of speech, but it will also put transgender people's lives in jeopardy as using their lived names might be tagged as fictitious identities under the measure.
In 2018, non-profit Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) in a briefing paper said not only is the bill a "costly and difficult endeavor" but it also wouldn't stop criminals from "always" finding ways to circumvent the law.
The FMA cited Pakistan as an example, in which authorities recovered SIM cards supposedly used by militants involved in a terrorist attack in 2014. But the SIM cards were traced to unsuspecting citizens with no connection to the incident.
Citing a "logistical nightmare," the organization also questioned how the telco companies and the government would effectively implement the measure.
"A huge portion of the population, especially among the marginalized groups, do not have existing valid identification documents," it said, adding that the requirement might also trigger a "chilling effect" on mobile phone use due to the logistical difficulties, financial costs, and the privacy risks.
Above all, the FMA flagged the measure's potential use for surveilling investigative journalists, whistle-blowers, witnesses, marginalized groups, as well as victims of discrimination and oppression.