- Official seek SIM card registration, alongside a National ID system now being rolled out, to improve traceability of users
- 7 out of 10 Filipinos use the internet, a majority of whom via mobile phones
- Legislators are weighing privacy issues against public security benefits of move
- Supporters say it will encourage more responsble mobile phone use, and curb use of cellphones to set off bombs
- Critics warn it such a would lead to identity theft and create a black market for unregistered mobile phones
Now, the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is pushing for mandatory SIM card registration — already practised in most countries —apparently to combat the increasing incidents of fake bookings through delivery apps.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, in a briefing to the state-run PTV4 on Friday, said in Filipino: “One of our proposals is the registration of cellphone cards or SIM so there will be traceability.”
One legislation pending in the Philippines’ upper legislative chamber, the 24-member Senate, seeks to mandate end-users of prepaid SIM cards to present a valid ID with photograph and to sign a control-numbered registration form issued by the service provider. The lower house, the 304-seat House of Representatives, had already passed its own version of the bill on third and final reading in May 2018.
In July 2019, Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson sponsored Senate Bill 25, dubbed as the “Prepaid Subscriber Identity Module ( SIM) Cards Regulations Act of 2019,” which seeks to address the “so-called” Tapon-SIM Scams and Crimes” (Throwaway-SIM Scams and Crimes).
Local media reported recently that a family in Quezon City, a suburb of Manila, fell victim to fake delivery bookings amounting to 15,000 pesos (about $300) worth of food. This forced the family and their neighbours to fork out the amount to pay for items which none of them had ordered.
Rosmar Tan, a local vlogger, also reportedly fell victim to a fake delivery booking, and was forced to pay almost 15,000 pesos worth of items she did not order. Lopez, the DTI secretary, urged citizens and residents to use online payment channels as another tool against fake bookings.
High profile victim
The perpetrators managed to charge Gatchalian’s credit card for an online food delivery after gaining access to a security feature on web-based services — the One-Time Password (OTP) — using a prepaid mobile phone. “When fraudsters gain access to OTPs, it’s as if they’re the actual owners of the account doing the transaction,” Gatchalian told local media.
Anonymity vs identity
SIM registration has been largely effective in curbing crime. Some gangs, however, have resorted to identity theft to carry out criminal activity (mobile phones used SIM cards purchased with stolen identity). Also, SIM card registration in some countries have created a black market to service those wishing to remain anonymous. There’s also a concern about how SIMs can be illegally cloned, or how criminals can use foreign SIMs on roaming mode, to circumvent SIM registration requirements.
Philippine officials said there are legal remedies prescribed by proposed legislation to curb abuses. A SIM registration regime, combined with the Philippine National ID system, now undergoing a rollout, could help significantly boost security in a country of more than 110 million inhabitants
Gatchalian’s Senate Bill (No. 176, “SIM Card Registration Act”) mandates end-users of prepaid SIM cards to present a valid ID and photo and sign a control-numbered registration form, copies of which shall be furnished to the service provider and the National Telecommunications Commission, the industry regulator. The two versions, S.B. 25 and S.B. 176, may first have to be consolidated, before they get harmonised with the House version. It is unknown at this point when this would happen, if at all.
Why register SIM cards?
Supporters of the legislation also believe allowing the state to know the identity of a SIM card’s owner, and the person most likely making a call or sending a message, could lead to more responsible use of technology. Critics say it could expose end-users to abuse, leading to a loss of privacy of communications.
Benefits: digital payments
It could also potentially boost digital payments, lessen the cost of handling, improve quality of life and responsible citizenship overall. Perhaps the biggest payoff is security, as mobile phones had been used by terrorists on several occasions to off bombs that randomly kill people and disrupt normal life.
One downside is abuse or misuse of information by people who have access to it, as well as data leaks. Critics say the law must provide protection against such risk.
Philippine bombings triggered by cellphones
- January 27, 2019: Security footage of a bombing shows one of the bombers holding a mobile phone that was used to trigger bomb blasts that targeted two Church in southern Philippines.
- September 4, 2016: A blast in Davao City used a mobile phone as a trigger an improvised explosive device (IED) detonation, according to police.
- January 26, 2011: Five people were killed in Manila when mortar triggered by a cellphone was detonated in a bus.
Upshot for SIM registration
Blocking scammers: Listing SIM card users will also make it easier to block fraudsters from using anonymous numbers to rip off or terrorise people.
SIM Replaceability: If a SIM card number registered to your name is stolen or lost, you can request the SIM card to be de-activated and get a replacement (a facility available for post-paid SIM card users).