The Philippines’ Senate yesterday opened discussions on a new Cellphone Registration Act which, if passed, would force all pre-paid SIM card users to register their cards. In presenting the draft bill, the chairman of the Committee on Public Services, Senator Vicente Sotto III, said that the measures needed to be taken to stop SIM cards being used for nefarious means such as triggering bombs, identity theft through SIM swap scams and other crimes. Backing the call, Valenzuela City Representative Sherwin Gatchalian, the driving force behind the Cellphone Registration Act in the Lower House, added that the bill will ask domestic telcos to submit data on end users directly to the industry regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). With more than 111 million pay-as-you-go SIMs in operation in the Philippines, the government is actively looking to ensure that users register their cellphone numbers and details, although critics of the plan are unsure as to how the state can guarantee that the personal database of user information is both secure and protected against leaks.
A number of leading telcos have already opposed the bill, arguing that people’s rights to communicate with one another freely would be threatened by the new Act. The Philippine Chamber of Telecommunication Operators (PCTO) says that while it backs any measure that would reduce crime associated with SIM cards, it does not agree with the proposed method of registration. The PCTO legal counsel Rodolfo Salalima argues that the right to telecommunications is a ‘basic human right’ and this is imperilled by the proposed legislation, noting too that it runs contrary to the government’s stated aim of ‘bringing basic telecommunications services to all parts of the country’. Those against SIM card registration point to high profile failures of registration schemes in the United Kingdom, Mexico and Kenya, which they claim have done little to deter crime. ‘So the intended solution will not in fact be a solution at all. Instead it will disenfranchise and cause a lot of hardship for millions of Filipinos,’ Salalima said. But Sotto has dismissed such assertions, saying that more important issues are at stake: ‘When you trample on the right to life, the right to telecommunicate takes a back seat.’