By Lorenzo Urriquia
The SIM Registration Law is a recent implementation requiring every Filipino citizen to register their SIM card. In this process, each person must provide his/her own personal information to telecommunication companies and the government itself such as name, contact number, email address, home address, accounts, etc. The law was approved on September 27, 2022, while the registration schedule started just last December 27, 2022. Only 49.3%, or 82.8 million, of the 168 million active SIMs in the Philippines had been registered as of April 23. Due to this, the registration of SIM cards has been extended by 90 days which was originally from the April 26 deadline. The lack of engagement to this requirement can be attributed to different reasons including struggle to register due to the lack of identification documents or mostly because of uncertainty on privacy risks. A large portion of Filipinos live in remote areas where internet access and signal are difficult to acquire. Moreover, the processes needed to submit the requirements or let alone be aware of these are entirely lacking. Most importantly, it is simply difficult for everyone to participate in this mandate given the persistent scams and identity theft lurking lately.
With this, the Manila Bay Solidarity Mission included an activity of focus group discussion where different organizations and the local community in BASECO are present in tackling the issues at hand regarding SIM Registration. The participating organizations include: AGHAM, CPU, KALIKASAN, or collectively, the People’s NICHE. CPU headed in providing an initial discussion of information with a campaign to oppose the implementation of the registration. This activity allowed the institutions and locals to raise concerns or personal experiences on the issue. Theories of misconceptions were debunked for all parties to be completely removed from false information. As a result, participants from the scientific institutions and local personnel would be able to disseminate precise information to their respective peers.
Vulnerability from lack of opportunity
For instance, as a college student, I can share learnings from the discussion with my fellow classmates and professors. This provides them with the opportunity to decide whether registering is justifiable or not. This provides them with an opportunity with which I was not given before. Personally, there was no cognitive dissonance nor a choice for me to act on the implementation. A student not conforming to the mandate will simply be stripped of his/her contact number. Consequences from a deactivated number include loss of established data in academic, organizational, job, residential, social media, and of course, personal records. My only thought before was what would I lose if I did not register. Every publication material contains this reminder for the public. But this just became a manipulation since the other side was clearly not being addressed. And that is what would we lose from registering? Having credible knowledge is the opportunity deprived by most of us.
Disabled text, pointless context
The established plan to stop providing some services to SIM card holders who are not registered during the 90-day extension period was the subject of the first discussion. One of the locals brought up her test to prove this execution as factual. In her experience, she owned two SIMS, one of which is registered and the other is not. At present, both are able to receive text messages, but the unregistered one can no longer be able to send messages. The extension of the registration allows users to still register and revoke this repercussion. However, the local reiterated her wariness to provide another registration of personal information. This is mainly because of still prevalent text scams regardless of if a person registered already or not. In fact, all participants concurred that the number of random messages from unidentified numbers is more rampant than ever. This signifies that the purpose of the SIM registration law is pointless as shown by present evidence and worse, a risk to the privacy security of Filipinos.
Organized theft, localized problem
The SIM registration law has implications for data privacy. While its purpose intends to address security concerns and prevent illegal activities, it also poses potential risks to data privacy. The gathering and storage of personal data during SIM registration results in the creation of a centralized database that could be exposed to data breaches. If the database is not sufficiently protected, unauthorized users or hackers may access sensitive personal data, which could result in fraud, identity theft, or other nefarious acts. Names, addresses, and other identifying information are among the personally identifiable information that may be acquired and misused. This can involve targeted advertising, unsolicited commercial messages, or even the unauthorized transfer of a person’s personal information to another party. Most of the participants attested to this sort of message where contents include their own names and addresses that would make the intent look or sound legitimate. One of the locals shared one negative experience of a scam on Gcash. She mentioned that she lost around five-thousand pesos recently on the platform without knowing how. Of course, she tried to acquire the money back by filing a technical assistance, but the appeal was never acknowledged. Similar experiences of her acquaintances were followed in her discussion to support the claim.
Lack of consent, lack of content
In addition to the risks, authorities can more readily track and keep an eye on people’s communication activity thanks to SIM registration. Although this capability can help with law enforcement activities, it also raises questions about possible power abuses, privacy invasions, and surveillance of innocent people. High ranking personnels, institutions or the government itself can have access to the data of all citizens. This could prove a risk for all scales of organizations and individuals. Red tagging in the Philippines has been common for a quite a while and a high risk could prevail more in the future due to this law. Lastly, marginalized populations, such as those without official identification documents or those who cannot pay to register, may be disproportionately affected by SIM registration requirements. This may result in their exclusion from necessary communication services and further marginalized groups that are already at risk. Locals from the BASECO community can be the perfect example as they have limited the non-existent of necessary documents.
Advocate transparency for data privacy
We Filipino citizens may not always be fully informed about how our personal data is collected, stored, and used when they register for a SIM card. Sometimes, we might not realize that we’re agreeing to terms and conditions that compromise our data privacy due to a lack of transparency. This is a serious concern as it can lead to violations of our right to privacy. Hence, it is essential that the government and telecommunications providers put strong data protection measures in place, such as encryption, safe storage methods, and stringent access controls, to reduce these threats. Moreover, we must advocate for openness and informed consent during the registration process to better protect our data privacy rights. Regular audits and independent oversight are also crucial to ensure compliance and prevent potential misuse of our personal data. Let’s work together to safeguard our data privacy and demand the protection we deserve. Take a stand for data privacy! Join us in demanding an end to forced SIM registration, protecting our personal information from unwarranted surveillance, and safeguarding our fundamental right to privacy. Together, let’s advocate for policies that respect individual liberties and secure our sensitive data from potential abuse. Act now for a safer and more private digital world! #ProtectDataPrivacy #JunkSIMreg