The cloak of anonymity in cell phones will soon be shredded. Many users who want to have a “confidential” or “private” line might soon be facing a challenge on how to maintain their anonymity on air or online and still follow the proposed law on mandatory SIM card registration. Illicit lovers and philanderers just like terrorists will find themselves somewhat easier to be tracked, exposed and even charged because their SIM cards can no longer be “secret.” In the latest test episode of our TV program
AGENDA exclusively on Cignal TV, we recently tackled the proposed legislation of Senator Sherwin Gatchalian requiring consumers and users of mobile phones to “register” by providing two government identification cards in order to buy and use a “SIM” card. Senator Gatchalian shared that he got started on the proposed law because of a terrorist bombing in Mindanao where five doctors were killed by an IED or improvised explosive device triggered by a cellphone. The terrorists simply had to call the phone and “Ka-Boom.” Authorities managed to recover the SIM card but it was a typical disposable and unregistered SIM card.
In response to the required two valid government IDs, Mon Isberto who heads the SMART/PLDT corporate communications team pointed out that the requirement will automatically “disenfranchise” millions of poor Filipinos who live in far flung provinces, who need mobile phones but don’t have and don’t use government IDs or any ID for that matter.
Mon Isberto’s point is quite relevant because there are still hundreds of thousands if not millions who don’t have proper IDs from the barangay level and up. We still have no national ID, the Comelec remains a failure in providing voters with the proper Voter’s ID. Unless you are a member, chances are you don’t have an SSS – GSIS – Pag IBIG or PhilHealth ID card. To this, Senator Gatchalian countered that there is already a strong support and forward movement for a bill towards establishing a National ID. There is also an ID currently being issued to beneficiaries of the government’s 4-Ps program. Perhaps Senator Gatchalian could also look into addressing a need for a Barangay level ID to cover transients and have an updated list on an annual basis just like private villages require for residents and their domestic employees.
I found out that there are more SIM cards/phones in use than the total population of the Philippines, or an estimated 120 million SIMs versus 110 million Filipinos. Under the proposed law, the telcos will be required to handle the SIM registration program and to do it in six months. That’s easier said than done. The lawmakers have been in discussions with the telcos and it became clear to all that verifying and registering ownership of 120 million SIM cards is not going to be cheap and definitely not easy.
On the positive side, Senator Gatchalian and supporters of the bill point out that the bill will certainly make online and cellphone “Bullying” a lot harder because your number can now be tracked to you. Depending on how the law and subsequent laws are formulated, we may also see the day when unsolicited and unwelcomed marketing or sales pitch from banks, lending companies and car sales people might be greatly minimized. Jealous spouses can also find out if there’s really a hot babe or a hunk behind a suspicious number!
To add perspective to the discussion we invited the chairman of the Philippine Privacy Commission Raymund Liboro, who stressed that the Commission is and always will be particular about the right to privacy of citizens particularly with their “data.” Liboro also emphasized that whoever controls or is made responsible for securing all related data or input into SIM registration must have the capability and technical facilities to secure all the information handed over to them so that users information are not culled or sold to vendors, politicians or used outside of the intended purpose of SIM registration.
To be fair the resistance of the telcos is not just about the added work or immense expense to undertake the registration or sign-up. Companies like SMART or PLDT could end up dragged into or harassed with law suits by anyone who feels or claims that their privacy or data has been compromised by the telco. Senator Gatchalian did qualify that access to those data can’t be done by just anybody in government or law enforcement. The bill will stipulate that only a very limited and very high level authority in the judiciary, law enforcement or security services will be allowed to engage or look into anyone’s data. It was then suggested that authorization should not be limited to the level of judges or a court but should be paired with a representative of the Privacy Commission.
When Chairman Liboro commented that the proposed law was actually dealing with “anonymity” as a tool of criminals, it occurred to me that the same also affects how the country’s top business people, celebrities and politicians protect their privacy by using pre-paid SIM cards that somehow give them a measure of anonymity. How then can that legitimate group enjoy the benefits of modern communications without exposing themselves to stalkers, haters, vendors or fans? Senator Gatchalian reassured us that the proposed bill will allow those people to use a company name as long as there is an assigned person or individual like your secretary, chief of staff or head of HR and there is a registered address that allows tracking in the event that authorities need to contact the “user.”
Like it or not the of SIM card registration will soon affect a mobile phone near you!
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