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SIM card registration bill dangerous, activists say as they welcome veto

Progressive leaders greeted the veto of the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card registration bill which they said was dangerous and could violate rights to privacy and free speech.

House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Party-list Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said the bill "gravely runs afoul with the Filipino people's constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy and free expression."

Zarate, who voted against the bill, said it will give "easy access" to data of the subscribers that telecommunications company may give.

The measure mandates all public telecommunications entities to require the registration of SIM cards as a prerequisite to their sale and activation.  This aims to curb fraud and other crimes aided by SIM cards.

Malacanang announced its veto on Friday, saying the President opposed the provision that would require social media users to use their real names and phone numbers in creating their accounts, adding such requires proper guidelines and definition.

In opposing the bill, Zarate said there are existing tools that can be used to detect text scams.

"Abala pa ito sa mga konsyumer dahil magkakaroon pa ng dagdag na proseso upang makagamit ng SIM Card, at tiyak na mahihirapan ang National Telecommunications Commission na pangunahan ang bugso ng mga iparehistro na SIM Card sa kanilang mga pasilidad," he said.

"Imbis na paglaanan ng pondo ang mga imprastraktura para sa mas maayos na connectivity ng mamamayan lalo na sa panahon na ang ating ekonomiya at paraan ng pamumuhay ay may mahigpit na pangangailangan sa internet," he added.

In a separate statement, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes said “state-sponsored attacks on privacy” will continue even with the bill's enactment.

“The SIM card and social media registration are dangerous measures that undermine privacy and create a chilling effect on consumers and social media users. It is a form of state surveillance on the people and does not deter crime,” he said.

Reyes said the government must first take action on the issue by “dismantling its own troll machinery” and by probing the spate of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against human rights defenders and media websites happening “dangerously close” to the 2022 May polls.

“A big part of the problem is the government itself as it benefits directly and indirectly from nefarious online activities. Violations of privacy through measures such as the SIM card and social media registration will not solve these problems. We should start with demanding the government stop weaponizing social media and attacking people online,” he said.

Kabataan party-list president and first nominee Raoul Manuel noted that President Rodrigo Duterte's opposed only the bill's provision on social media registration, but did not reject SIM card registration.

“Both SIM card registration and social media registration trample upon our rights to privacy and free speech. But Duterte did not oppose SIM card registration,” he said on Twitter.—LDF, GMA News