Anonymity chal­lenged

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - AGENDA

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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