Enactment of SIM card registration law imperative for public protection  

Published December 23, 2021, 12:20 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed this month similar bills mandating the registration of subscriber identity module (SIM) cards in order to curb fraudulent and criminal activities by users of mobile telephone devices.  Senate Bill 2395 and House Bill 5793 will now be harmonized and submitted for the President’s approval of a new law.

A SIM card is a tiny, portable memory chip that stores information about a mobile phone user.  The evolution of SIM cards from 1991 to the present is aligned with the history of the Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM).  On the SIM card is a 17-digit code that designates its country of origin and system carrier. As it stores user information required for authentication, it enables the connection of a mobile telephone device with a GSM network.

New SIM card buyers will have to present a valid government-issued identification card to verify their identity while those with existing SIM cards must register within 30 days. Those who will refuse to present their IDs when buying new SIM cards or those who will not register shall be refused sale while existing services will be deactivated by their GSM network or public telecommunication entity (PTE).

Lawmakers said they aim to eradicate mobile phone-aided terrorism and criminal activities. They also want to deter the proliferation of text scams; unsolicited, indecent, or obscene messages; bank fraud; and massive disinformation that cause chaos and disorder. PTEs shall submit to the National Telecommunications Commission a verified list of their current authorized third-party resellers, which will be prohibited from engaging in the sale of fraudulently registered or stolen SIM cards.

Going beyond mandatory SIM card registration, the Senate version includes a provision that would oblige all social media platforms to require those who want to create accounts to provide their real names and phone number during registration.  This was proposed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon to curb the proliferation of online trolls that spread fake news and disinformation.

Penalties range from stiff fines to suspension of operations on the part of PTEs, direct sellers and resellers. Fines for non-compliant PTEs and third-party resellers range from P10,000 to P100,000 in the Senate version.  A higher fine of P200,000 shall also be imposed upon the PTE, or its agent or employee, or third-party reseller for unauthorized disclosure of information obtained during the SIM card registration process. In the House version, the maximum fine for direct sellers is P1 million.  Employees of an implementing government agency who violate the law would suffer a penalty of suspension or dismissal from service and pay a fine to be determined by a court.  

Those found guilty of using fake identities in registering their SIM cards or social media accounts could be jailed for a period ranging from six months to 12 years, aside from paying a fine of up to P200,000, or both, if the Senate version would be adopted.

Immediate enactment of a new law mandating SIM card registration is imperative for the protection of the general public.