President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday signed into law the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card Registration Act, which aims to promote accountability in the use of mobile phones.
The SIM Registration Act seeks to end crimes using phones, including text and online scams by regulating the sale and the use of SIMs by mandating registration to end-users.
Under this measure, all public telecommunications entities (PTEs) or direct sellers will require the SIM card user to present a valid identification document with a photo.
Information in the SIM card registration will be treated as confidential unless the subscriber authorizes access to his information.
The measure also directs telecommunications companies to disclose the full name and address contained in the SIM card registration upon a duly issued subpoena or order of a court.
Law enforcement agencies that investigate purported crimes committed through phones may also submit a written request to telecommunications providers to disclose the details of the SIM card holder.
The measure is the consolidation of the bills approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc., the country’s two biggest telcos, previously expressed support for SIM card registration and vowed to assist the government in deterring crimes committed electronically.
Mr. Marcos signed Republic Act No. (RA) 11934 also known as An Act Requiring the Registration of SIM Cards in a ceremony witnessed by Vice President Sara Duterte, lawmakers, and other government officials at Malacañang Palace.
RA 11934 is the first law signed under the Marcos administration. It was signed two days after Mr. Marcos marked his first 100 days in office on Oct. 8.
In a speech, Mr. Marcos thanked lawmakers from the Senate and House of Representatives for producing a “long overdue” measure seeking to resolve crimes using SIM cards.
He said the law would “set the important tone that it is our national policy to ensure that technology shall only be used to improve our people’s lives.”
RA 11934, which is a consolidation of House Bill No. 14 and Senate Bill No. 1310, requires Public Telecommunication Entities (PTEs) or direct sellers to demand end users of SIM cards to present a valid identification document to validate their identities.
It also requires PTEs to submit a verified list of their authorized dealers and agents nationwide to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and an updated list of the same every quarter of each year.
The law mandates that all PTEs are required to maintain a SIM Card Registry of their subscribers, containing the information required under the new law.
In an interview, Information and Communications Technology Secretary Ivan John Uy said the time frame for registering SIM cards will still be decided after consultation between the NTC and PTEs.
“I think the prescribed time has still to be set by NTC and with the consultation with the telcos because they have to prepare the systems, they have to prepare their people in order to do this. But I think it’s easy, there are a lot of processes,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Uy said PTEs may consider asking their subscribers to validate their SIM cards online the same way it is done with electronic wallets to avoid long lines in their physical stores.
“The data is already there… especially the post-paid ones, so they just have to revalidate whether the one who’s using the phone is the same one that applied…The challenge would be the prepaid [SIMs]. They would still receive a notice that ‘Okay, Mr. Anonymous in view of the SIM Card Registration Bill please log in to this site and you will receive a verification text on your phone that you are indeed the owner of that phone,’” he said.
To ensure that those registering SIM cards are legitimate individuals, he said identification (ID) cards submitted, such as driver’s licenses and passports, may easily be validated by concerned agencies.
In a statement, House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez thanked the President for the immediate signing of the measure into law—the first bill enacted by the Marcos administration.
He said this signifies the Marcos administration’s recognition of the need to put in place measures that will protect Filipino consumers against cybercriminals and online scammers.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), meanwhile, expressed hope that the SIM Card Registration Law’s benefits will outweigh privacy issues and other concerns raised by subscribers.
In a statement, PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. allayed fears of mobile phone users over the issue, saying the confidentiality of communications is duly protected under the country’s laws.
He added that the measure will strengthen law enforcers’ capability to go after criminals through the accurate identification of all mobile phone users.
“In our experience, during the onset of the pandemic in 2019 when people were prevented from going outside their homes, criminals shifted activities from traditional crimes to online crimes using telecommunication and cyberspace platforms,” the police chief said.
“They have devised different modus operandi to scam people of their hard-earned money. They hid behind the comfort of anonymity by using prepaid SIM cards to defraud unsuspecting victims,” he said.
Citing data from the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group, Azurin said the police recorded a total of 4,254 SIM card-related offenses from January to September this year.
This excludes cases handled by other units of the PNP, other government institutions, reported incidents handled by different financial institutions, and cases unreported by victims.
Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur said with the new law, all mobile phone subscribers will now be better protected against the plethora of phone-based scams like smishing, in which scammers try to hoodwink unsuspecting mobile phone users into giving them personal information, like passwords and credit card numbers, which can then be used to commit identity theft.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda urged telecommunications companies to ensure that they will faithfully abide by the Data Privacy Act.
“Once the SIM Card Registration Act is in place, the telecommunications companies will be the largest owners of comprehensive identity information in the country except for the government itself. On the one hand, SIM Card Registration might deter some obvious crimes, like text spam and anonymous text messages or even threats,” Salceda said.
“On the other hand, the moment the databases fall into the hands of unscrupulous individuals, which could be a data privacy catastrophe.”
“So, before the IRR is issued, I hope some concerns about data privacy are first heard and addressed.”
Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate public services committee, said they 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.
The law has instituted sufficient safeguards that accord primacy to consumers’ right to privacy to ensure safe and secure mobile use in the country, she said.
Poe sponsored the SIM Registration Act in the Senate.
Senator Joel Villanueva said the new law was a victory against text scammers who continue to take advantage of their fellowmen.
Telecommunications firms, meanwhile, urged the full rollout of the national identification system in response to the passage of the SIM Card Registration Act.
Globe general counsel Froilan Castelo said SIM registration would be useless if users were allowed to submit any form of identification that can be easily falsified. DITO Telecommunity Corp.’s chief technology officer Rodolfo Santiago also cited the need for the national ID system.