THE RIGHT MOVE
Following the deluge of text scams and other cybercrimes perpetrated through telecommunications channels last year, the implementation of the SIM Card Registration Act has been in full swing. But after having appeased the hundreds of complainants from all across the country during the first days of its “faulty” implementation with difficulties in registration for one, is this law so far, faring well to fulfill its supposed purpose of curbing criminality?
Out of the 169 million subscribers of prepaid SIM cards, only over 28 million have been registered as of this writing. Foremost, SIM cards used in scams before are not expected to be registered. But was international lobby organization Human Rights Watch correct that having several remote areas in the country will make it not only difficult to register, but lead to the social issue of discrimination?
“Mandatory SIM card registration also tends to discourage or discriminate against categories of people. Requiring people to personally appear and present identification documents in order to purchase a SIM card will prove tricky for those with limited mobility, those who live in remote places, and those who simply do not have basic documentation,” Frederike Kaltheuner from HRW warned.
Suffice to say, this has so far not been the case in the Philippines. Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) spokesperson, Undersecretary Anna Mae Lamentillo is hopeful that the DICT’s facilitated SIM registration in remote areas has and will bridge the gap between Filipinos in remote areas who have less accessibility to registration of SIMs with slow to nearly crippling cellular data receptions.
It was prudent on the part of the DICT to anticipate problems and prepare appropriate measures. Lamentillo admits that the DICT expected a lull and then a surge again once the deadline nears. She says, “Information campaign is now at the grassroots. In fact, mayors committed to support the SIM Card Registration Act by encouraging their constituents, providing support for assisted registrations, and cascading the information to barangays for wider reach and to ensure that we reach our kababayans in all areas.”
She adds, “We heard about the problem of the lack of government issued ID of some registrants. With this, we coordinated with the Department of Justice to set up a one- stop-shop in remote areas where they can secure their NBI clearances, which they can use in registering their SIM to solve the problem of lack of valid government issued ID.”
Admittedly, this legislation, which has actually gone through years of exploration, deliberation and even opposition before its implementation under the BBM administration, is not the “end all” and “be all” solution against cybercriminals, yet it can be a ripple in a current of actual change. The government together with the telcos must continue to collaborate for a multi-thronged effort if they are to protect the end users.
“The government will continue to initiate other programs, such as the hotline 1326 where the public can report text scams, fraud calls, and cybercrime. We will continue to remind the public to always be vigilant and not entertain calls and messages from unknown individuals and entities,” Lamentillo shares.
As for subscribers who continue to receive text scams and other messages from unknown numbers, Lamentillo says, “While the SIM Registration Law aims to curb fraudulent calls and scam texts, this does not mean that we can already be complacent. Even with the protection of the law, we should continue to be vigilant because the best protection we always have against scammers is not letting our guard down.”
But the huge accountability must still lie among the telcos that thrive from the necessity of Filipinos, even those living below poverty lines, to own cell phones. PTEs must continue to provide safe mobile and online spaces.
“Our telcos have their respective active information campaigns to warn and protect their customers from unscrupulous individuals and entities. As to the SIM Registration, we would like to highlight that the telcos are obliged to observe the absolute confidentiality of the information and data obtained in the registration process to protect their customers from unscrupulous merchants or entities. Unauthorized disclosure of the data or information obtained will result in criminal or civil liability of the PTE,” assures Lamentillo.
While the effectiveness of this law against criminal activities is yet to be seen in the future, on a personal account, ever since its implementation only over a month ago, the daily spam and scam messages from cyber criminals hiding behind the anonymity of prepaid numbers I myself received in the past, has dramatically decreased to nearly zero per day.
When all is said and done, when all SIM cards have been registered, the next challenge for our government and PTEs to anticipate and prepare for is ensuring that we do not follow suit to countries where this law worked against their people’s favor in the long run. We must stay vigilant to ensure human rights including the right to privacy will be upheld, and the protection of data gathered during the registration must be ensured so as not to be used for nefarious purposes.