Sunday, July 21, 2024

Civil society groups call on Duterte to veto SIM card registration bill

Over 25 local, regional, and international organizations and 17 individuals have signed a statement calling on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to veto the country’s proposed SIM Card Registration Act.

Photo from Freepik.com

The statement was officially submitted to the Office of the President on March 21, 2022, a few days after the bill was reportedly received by the said office.

If passed, the proposed SIM Card Registration Act will require all mobile users to register their personal information with local telcos, which are duty-bound to consolidate such data in a centralized database.

“What makes the current bill distinct from those filed in previous years is that it also requires all social media account platforms to record the real names and phone numbers of their users upon account creation. This unnecessary and excessive addition has blindsided not only human rights advocates who were not duly consulted during the legislative process, but even industry stakeholders as well,” the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), one of the signatories, said.

The signatories to the statement expressed vehement opposition to the proposed bill, noting that it poses a grave threat to the individual rights to privacy and free expression not only of Filipinos but also of other Philippine residents.

The statement highlighted five main objections to the law, taking its cue from a 2018 report by the FMA:

  • The theory that SIM card registration is a boon for law enforcement has been consistently debunked across jurisdictions.
  • The potential for abuse and function creep is high, especially when it comes to the use of the registration information for surveillance.
  • The mandatory registration of social media accounts prevents internet users from exercising their right to anonymity, and, for some, even their ability to express themselves and freely associate with others.
  • The measure imposes unnecessary burden on mobile phone users and third-party resellers, which consist mainly of small businesses.
  • The proposal seeks to establish another massive database that immediately presents itself as a major security risk.

Similar statements under the public petition platform Change.org have garnered a combined total of 109,173 signatures as of March 31. Both public petitions have also been submitted to the Office of the President.

International human rights organizations such as Access Now, Article 19, the International Commission of Jurists, and FORUM-ASIA have also taken a stand against the proposed law in a separate call.

“The proposal to establish a mandatory SIM card registration comes amid the long-standing battle being waged by local civil society against laws that threaten the right to privacy, such as the Anti-Terror Law, the Philippine Identification System Act, as well as elements of the Cybercrime Prevention Act,” the FMA statement read.

“This context is worth highlighting. For as the specter of a society that offers little to no space or refuge for individual privacy rights draws nearer, the greater also is the peril that democracy finds itself in. That is one grim prospect that simply cannot be allowed to be realized.”

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