Rationale behind SIM registration is flawed, says civil society group

A civil society organization released this week a briefing paper warning of the perils of adopting mandatory SIM card registration for the country’s mobile phone subscribers.

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The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) issued the paper noticing that efforts to establish a mandatory SIM card registration appeared to be gaining steam in Congress.

In its brief, the organization presented an overview of the benefits and risks that come with a SIM card registration system, as evidenced by the actual experiences of other countries.

It noted that the rationale behind most SIM card registration policies is its supposed ability to deter crime and terrorism, while at the same time increasing public access to mobile-based government services. FMA said this is flawed and inconsistent with the experiences of many jurisdictions that have such a system.

“In a number of instances, its weakness in curbing terrorism has been exposed due to the ability of criminals to circumvent regulation,” the non-profit group said.

It even caused the emergence of black markets where stolen or counterfeit SIM cards are sold, as well as an increase in handset theft incidents, as demand for untraceable phones spiked, FMA noted.

The civil society group said concerns about its effectiveness have already been raised by local stakeholders such as the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the telecommunications industry. Even the Office of the President of the previous administration had occasion to express its doubts about the measure.

The briefing paper also highlighted other issues surrounding the controversial measure, including its potential use for surveillance against those belonging to groups or sectors such as journalists, whistleblowers, witnesses, and victims of discrimination and oppression.

Ultimately, it argued, an environment where intrusions to privacy become institutionalized and prevalent, inevitably poses a significant risk to other fundamental rights and freedoms such as free speech, freedom of assembly, and right to information.

In conclusion, FMA said that the promise of SIM card registration to help law enforcement and improve the delivery of government services has already been revealed as illusory, or at least significantly inflated.

The group said the government should consider all things — particularly the dangers posed by the proposal — before rushing to pass a policy that can do more harm than good.

“For the public, they need to remain vigilant and resist any or all measures that attempt to narrow individual space for privacy and other related rights and freedoms,” the paper said.

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