It may be to help solve crimes in the country, but a prepaid card registry may not be a great idea for the Philippines.

Juvy Garcia  |  Singapore
Published 2014-10-31 15:00:15

The Philippines is currently mulling over the possible registration of SIM cards in an effort to curb crimes in the country. Six bills, which cover the SIM Card Registration Act, are currently pending with the Committee on Information and Communications Technology of the Philippine’s House of Representatives.

The Aquino administration has manifested support to the proposed bills, with Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. saying it is “preferable” and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima saying she sees no legal nor constitutional issues with them.

Image Credit: PTV
Image Credit: PTV

However, despite the government’s positive stance on its implementation, Philippine telcos and others are not amenable to it. Here are 3 reasons why SIM card registration in the Philippines may not be a good idea.

#1: Reprogrammable SIMs Could Be the Future

The SIM card as we know it could be no more. Apple is poised on continuing its pioneering stretch with yet another first, this time in the realm dominated by telcos. What is it and will it succeed?

“The SIM card is about to die,” says Chris Ziegler of The Verge. “Within a year or two, you’ll probably never see a SIM card in an Apple product again. You may not even see a tray.”

Ziegler’s article goes on to discuss how Apple has never liked SIM cards in the first place and how it has worked to making it smaller and smaller over the years until ultimately, it will be no more. Apple was the first in the market to push for the micro-SIM, the nano-SIM and now, it has introduced the Apple SIM, a reprogrammable SIM card that is available in the US and UK LTE variants of the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3.

Image Credit: WikiCommons
Image Credit: WikiCommons

The Apple SIM allows users to switch to different carriers easily via a Settings menu in iOS. But for Ziegler, the onset of the reprogrammable SIM is a warning that the next iPhone will be using it. Ziegler continues that “it’s easy to imagine” how Apple could just eliminate the SIM card tray altogether.

Whether the Apple SIM concept will be adopted across other devices in the near future is uncertain, but it will likely come later down the road, which makes the idea of adopting sim card registration now, of all times, a little absurd.

#2: An ‘Administrative Nightmare’

“Administrative nightmare” is how Philippine telcos describe the SIM Card Registration Act, according to Rappler. With only 10% of total mobile subscribers in the country being registered or having postpaid accounts, it’s very easy to imagine how difficult it could be for these telcos to manage the registration of about 90 million prepaid SIM cards. Not to mention this could mean additional staff and costs.

Image Credit: mrcheapjustice.wordpress.com
Image Credit: mrcheapjustice.wordpress.com

In addition, it is an “unpractical and ineffective solution against crime” because of a lack of a reliable ID system in the country, says Rodolfo Salalima, Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators (PCTO) president and Globe counsel. Though I wouldn’t complain about being able to track down those spammers that keep texting me to get a loan, a condo unit or health insurance.

The PCTO voiced its opposition via a position paper. PCTO members include Globe and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), who owns mobile arm Smart.

#3: Breach of Privacy and Can be Used as Monitoring Tool

Al Alegre, executive director of Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), stated during a meeting to discuss developments in surveillance in Asia that the proposed policy of SIM card registration in the Philippines could be a violation of the right to privacy.

“We believe that addressing crimes is a legitimate concern of the State but we should also rethink how this policy could be a violation of our citizen’s right to privacy.” – Al Alegre, executive director of Foundation for Media Alternatives

In the Philippines, a law protecting personal data has already been enacted as Republic Act No. 10173 or the “Data Privacy Act of 2012”. The law basically ensures the collection, use, processing and storage of personal information be based on the general principles of legitimate purpose, transparency and proportionality. Another law the proposed bill runs counter to is RA 7925 or the New Telecoms Policy Act.

Image Credit: RT America
Image Credit: RT America

SIM card registration “is actually mass surveillance”, said another participant in the meeting Marlon Anthony R. Tonson, legal counsel to Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance. This mass surveillance is against the United Nations’ resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, which states that “unlawful or arbitrary surveillance and/or interception of communications, as well as unlawful or arbitrary collection of personal data, as highly intrusive acts, violate the rights to privacy and freedom of expression and may contradict the tenets of a democratic society.”

In the same meeting, Nighat Dad of Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan echoed Tonson’s concern. What’s worse, Dad believes data could fall into wrong hands and be used for wrong reasons such as implicating innocent citizens.

“SIM cards registered when it falls into the wrong hands can wrongfully implicate innocent citizens.” – Nighat Dad of Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan

Did I miss any other reason why the SIM Registration Act is not a good idea? Let me know in the comments below.

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