HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. 1st district of Valenzuela Representative Wes Gatchalian in a letter dated September 8, 2016, urged Committee on Information and Communications Technology Chairman, Rep. Victor A. Yap, to deliberate on proposals mandating the registration of SIM Cards (HB 2648). This was in response to the increasing number of bomb threats via anonymous text messages, which followed the September 2 terrorist bombing in Davao City.
Policy of Accountability
“The core policy that we want to promote in this bill is accountability. With progress in technology, we have made leaps and bounds in our ability to communicate, so much so that it has outpaced the laws. As in anything else, when there is a gap in our regulations it becomes an avenue to abuses.” explained Gatchalian.
In his explanatory note of HB 2648 Rep. Gatchalian cites “scams”, and various acts of terror as examples of how the unregulated sale of prepaid SIM cards have been used to perpetrate criminal activities aided by the near absolute anonymity of a prepaid SIM. HB 2648 fills in this gap by requiring Telecommunication Companies to maintain a registry of all its users, including prepaid subscribers. If passed into law, an original purchaser of prepaid SIM would be required to present valid identification for registration before he could purchase.
“Currently, landline users as well as postpaid subscribers already go through some form of registration. In Singapore, as in other countries, the collective trend has also been to require the registration of SIMs. The effect is that users of these devices are made to be more responsible in using them. There is no cogent reason why same should not be applied to prepaid users in our country.” added Gatchalian.
Concerns of Privacy
Previous iterations of this bill were met with oppositions refuting that it will be an infringement to the constitutional right to privacy of communication. To this point the congressman argues that registration only goes as far as identifying the user of the number, and not as to the content of the communication which remains absolutely private.
“By its nature, the act reaching out to communicate necessarily takes the person out of his private space, at least with respect to the person he is reaching out to. As to that information therefore, a person initiating contact cannot have any reasonable expectation of privacy. Even on the assumption that there is, the compelling state interest of ensuring law and order and public safety overcomes that barrier.” added Gatchalian.
Another potential barrier to the passing of this act are from the Telecommunication Companies, arguing that the registration of prepaid SIM Card users, by their sheer volume, would be an “administrative nightmare.” Current data pegs that out of the 100 million SIM cards actively used in the country, at least 97% of which are prepaid SIMs. Rep. Gatchalian while recognizing the validity of this concern, answers that this can be met with a convenient “transitory period” which would allow all the stakeholders a breathing space to adjust. “More importantly, difficulties in implementation, though valid, should never stop us from pursuing a policy which by its principle we believe to be correct.” added Gatchalian.
Time to Deliberate
In his letter to Rep. Yap, Gatchalian cites recent bomb threats to various educational institutions following the Davao blast earlier this month, as another reason why the proposed SIM registration bill should be deliberated in the “soonest possible time.”
“After receiving these anonymous text messages, these schools were left with no other option other than to cancel classes until they have ascertained that these threats were not true. We cannot go on with a system where our institutions would be crippled and are at the mercy of ill-willed individuals when we can do something about it now.” said Gatchalian.
HB 2648, “An Act Mandating the Registration of all Prepaid and Postpaid SIM Cards”, was filed by Representative Wes Gatchalian on August 8, 2016, and is currently with the Committee on Information and Communications Technology of the House of Representatives, awaiting deliberation.