Marcos signs SIM registration law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 10) — President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Monday signed a new law that aims to address the proliferation of text scams in the country.

“With the signing of this Act we will finally achieve what has long been overdue, an effective means of regulating the issuance of SIM cards to curb the spread of spam text messages and scams,” Marcos said during the ceremonial signing of Republic Act 11934 or the SIM Registration Act.

Under the new measure, which was vetoed by then President Rodrigo Duterte, a system for the sale and registration of SIM (subscriber identification module) cards will be established.

Mobile phone subscribers with prepaid SIM cards have 180 days from the time the law takes effect to register and verify their phone numbers with their respective public telecommunications entities (PTE).

An extension of 120 days can be given upon a valid written request to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

Senator Win Gatchalian, one of the authors of the new law, said the six-month period is enough time for existing users to register their cards.

“The [prepaid] subscriber will be given six months to register. So that's a lot of time for [prepaid] subscribers,” Gatchalian told CNN Philippines.

During the registration, users will be asked to fill out a form that will contain their information and present a copy of a valid government ID with photo.

Failure to comply will lead to the SIM card’s deactivation.

Meanwhile, data of existing postpaid subscribers will be included in the SIM Register since they have to submit that data upon subscription.

PTEs, or the telecommunication companies, have 30 days to submit a list of authorized sellers or dealers to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). This should be updated quarterly.

PTEs should also maintain a SIM Card Register of their subscribers, containing the information required by law.

The law also specifies provisions on confidentiality and data privacy.

Information of any subscriber can only be provided upon subpoena or order from a court, or upon a written request from a law enforcement agency that is investigating the possible involvement of a mobile number in a malicious, fraudulent, or unlawful act.

The law sets penalties for failure to register a SIM, breach of confidentiality, breach of confidentiality due to negligence, providing false or fictitious information or using fictitious identities or fraudulent identification of documents to register, spoofing a registered SIM, for sale of stolen SIM, and sale or transfer of a registered SIM without complying with required registration.

After the ceremony, DICT Secretary Ivan Uy told reporters the collection of data needed from prepaid subscribers may be done by notifying users through a text blast.

He also said the NTC will lead the consultations with the companies involved in the crafting of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

Speaking to CNN Philippines, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba confirmed that the commission will already start formulating the IRR along with other agencies like the Department of Information and Communications Technology, the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC), and the National Privacy Commission.

In a statement, CICC Executive Director Alexander Ramos issued a warning to scammers.

“With the signing of the SIM (Card) registration law, scammers and hackers who are using this vulnerability in hiding their identities to victimize people can now be identified,” he said.

Senator Grace Poe, one of the authors of the law, lauded the signing of the bill.

“We worked hard to pass the legislation anew as a crucial first step to fend off text scammers, while guaranteeing utmost respect to fundamental human rights,” she said in a statement.

Senator JV Ejercito said lawmakers will closely monitor the law’s implementation, while Senator Jinggoy Estrada said the signing is timely amid “rapid digital adoption driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

House Speaker Martin Romualdez said the law will be a “great first step toward the protection of the privacy of Filipinos that is currently vulnerable to intrusion from unscrupulous individuals who are using personal data to either misrepresent, scam or defraud consumers.”

Use National ID system for successful implementation

In a statement, Globe welcomed the passage of the law as it reiterates its call for the full rollout of the National ID system. It noted a “verifiable and fool-proof identification system is the foundation of the SIM Registration law.”

“[O]ur position has been clear from the beginning, a National ID system must be in place to ensure the safe and successful implementation of this new law," Globe general counsel Froilan Castelo said.

DITO Chief Technology Officer Rodolfo Santiago also reiterated the company’s previous statement that both the use of National ID and passport will greatly help in the validation of the subscriber’s identity.

“Doing so will unburden the telcos of the need to establish another database to store biometrics data, which would be time consuming and resource heavy,” he added.

Chief privacy officer of Globe Telecom Irish Almeida said telecommunication companies (telcos) fully support the new law and assure the highest standards for account data privacy.

“We can assure customers that we have the highest standards of privacy and cybersecurity, in fact it’s not just Globe, it’s really all the telcos,” Almeida told CNN Philippines.

Almeida said Globe has been working on a program to operationalize the law since deliberations started in Congress.

Gatchalian, likewise, said the telcos would not have difficulty adopting and implementing the law as it has been discussed lengthily.

“In terms of infrastructure, this has been a discussion for a long time. My version was as early as 2013. So it's been 10 years since we've been talking about this. So in terms of infrastructure, in terms of process, I don't think it will be a problem with the telcos," the senator said.

Roy Ibay, vice president and head of Regulatory Affairs of Smart Communications, for his part however said telcos should be given more time to prepare for the law’s implementation and test their systems to ensure safety of information to be collected.

Ibay said the company is also prepared to participate in the crafting of the IRR.

On the other hand, Renato Reyes, Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the law “poses problems for privacy rights as the Philippine government is notorious for illegal surveillance and violations of data privacy.”

He said the data collected will not be safe since Philippine government agencies have been involved in incidents of data leak.

“The Philippine government is a notorious human rights violator for years now, and any measure that would compromise privacy rights should be seen as a danger,” Reyes said.