February 6, 2018
QUEZON CITY – With efforts to establish a mandatory SIM card registration gaining steam in Congress, the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) released a briefing paper on the subject this Monday, February 5, 2018.
FMA is a civil society organization whose aim is to assist civil society organizations and other development stakeholders in promoting and defending their right to information and communication.
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 their supposed ability to deter crime and terrorism, while at the same time increasing public access to mobile-based government services. Something that is 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. 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.
In the recent past, 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 highlights other issues surrounding the controversial measure, not least of which is its potential use for surveillance against those belonging to at-risk groups or sectors such as journalists, whistleblowers, witnesses, and victims of discrimination and oppression. Ultimately, it argues, 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, just to name a few.
In conclusion, FMA declares 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 then enjoins the government to 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.