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House panel OKs mandatory SIM card registration bill

The House information and communications technology panel on Monday approved a bill mandating the registration of mobile subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, which was vetoed by former President Rodrigo Duterte last Congress.

The House panel, chaired by Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco, approved the consolidated measure with House Bill 14 filed by Speaker Martin Romualdez as mother bill.

The proposed SIM card registration obliges every public telecommunications entity (PTE) or any direct seller to require the end user of a SIM card to present a valid identification document with photo to ascertain the latter's identity.

Likewise, the bill provides that PTE or any direct seller will require the end user to accomplish and sign a control-numbered registration form issued by the respective PTE of the SIM card purchased.

Such registered information covers the mobile phone number and other personal information of a subscriber such as full name, date of birth, gender, and address.

"While private telecommunications providers are able to block mobile numbers that repeatedly send spam messages, the accessibility of getting SIM cards only prompts scammers to purchase new SIM cards and continue their operations.  Furthermore, due to the lack of SIM card regulation in the country, it becomes nearly impossible to trace the persons behind the text scams and hold them accountable for fraud, breach of data privacy or other punishable offenses t ha t they commit ted using an unknown mobile number," Romualdez said in his explanatory note.

Romualdez argued that telecommunication provider Globe Telecom Inc. has  blocked almost 71 million spam messages and deactivated 5,670 mobile phone numbers in 2021 due to user complaints claiming that they have received text messages containing suspicious job offers. Another telecommunications provider, PLDT, also blocked more than 23 million text messages posing as legitimate organizations but contained links to phishing websites only in a span of three days, June 11 to 14 this year.

"The time has come to regulate the sale and distribution of SIM cards in order  to  promote end-user accountability, prevent the proliferation of mobile phone scams and data breaches, and to assist law enforcement agencies in resolving crimes involving the use of mobile phone units. In view of the foregoing, the immediate approval of this bill is earnestly sought," Romualdez added.

But for opposition lawmaker Kabataan party-list Representative Raoul Manuel, a SIM Card Registration law will only pose risk given that the Philippines has a fragile cybersecurity system.

"While I agree with my colleagues that mobile phones should not serve as tools for crime and terrorism, SIM Card Registration law could be used for other purpose, especially that mobile phones are being used for a lot of purposes nowadays, including financial transactions," he said.

"The mobile numbers are under the control of service providers, and given that we don't have a strong cyber security mechanism in place, our data could be used by those people who have our information. There could be a leak," he added.

Department of Information and Communications Technology Secretary Ivan Uy admitted on Monday that the spate of spam text messages, which even contain the full names of the subscribers, are hard to trace.

"It is difficult to pinpoint where that exactly came from, even the ones we are seeing now with scam, phishing [link] with name [of the subscriber] on it. There could be a leak," he said.

Uy said DICT is already working with messaging app and online wallet firms to determine where the possible leak came from.—AOL, GMA News