Philippines: Online debate over SIM registration

The registration of cellphone subscriber identification module (SIM) cards has become a hot topic for Filipino netizens as lawmakers pushed for the measure in the wake of a recent bus bombing that allegedly involved the use of a cellphone.

Isaw Monologue believes that strict regulation of SIM card owners would help investigate crimes related to cellphone use:

I was tempted to report the two incidents I undergone last year to authorities. I was so eager to find the person who tried to diminish my reputation to a worthless grain of sand. And perhaps exact vengeance. But how can authorities pin the culprit when his only connection with me was his text messages? My friends had told me the SIM is no longer in use…

With compulsory registration of prepaid SIM owners, the scam-throw-my-SIM scheme would no longer work. You can throw your SIM card, but the cellular number can be traced back to you just like in the movies.

The Way It Is comments that SIM card registration is better than nothing as an anti-crime deterrent:

Oppositors say that identification cards may be open to fraud and counterfeit. Grant that they are. But a repeat of that argument will necessitate a repeat of the counterargument that it’s better than nothing.

One of the objectives of any anti crime program is to make it difficult for perpetrators to commit crime. SIM card registration serves as a stumbling block for those who intend to utilize cellphones in committing crime. It narrows the avenue of opportunity for them to do harm to the general public. It is one of the methods of target hardening.

Quaere Verum suggests some ways in which the registration of SIM cards can be facilitated:

Require that all new SIM card purchases be registered by a reasonable date. Ex. Starting January 1, 2012, all new prepaid SIM card purchases should be registered before activation;

Registration may be done by filling up a registration form containing at the very least the name and address of the registrant. At least two (2) identification cards should be submitted/shown to validate the information submitted;

After the sale has been completed, the retailer should submit the accomplished forms to the network provider for entry into its database, after which the SIM is activated within a reasonable amount of time…say, 24 hours;

For prepaid cards currently in use, require that they should be registered on or before a reasonable deadline. Ex. All current prepaid SIMs should be registered with their respective network providers on or before January 1, 2012;

On registration, the owner shall fill up a registration form and submit/show at least two (2) identification cards for validation. This registration information is forwarded to the network provider;

If the deadline passes and the prepaid SIM is not registered, it is automatically deactivated by the network provider.

Not everyone are in favor of the measure, however. The Law and ICT said that proponents should also look into the costs of the regulation:

Issues on privacy, security and identity theft, and the overall efficacy of requiring the registration procedure, are the considerations which readily come to mind…

My take on this is that such legislation, if at all to be passed, must in turn be counterbalanced with another regulation safeguarding the security of the information and stifling the chances of its misuse… Only then will our law be deemed one step further in keeping up with the advance of ICT while at the same time responsive to the civil libertarian values of privacy and security that our society cherishes and jealously guards.

Tonyo Cruz also cautions against hastily imitating other countries in this matter:

Proponents say that if Singapore and other countries were able to do it, why can’t the Philippines have all SIM cards registered as well.

Well, it is difficult or inappropriate to compare. Take the city-state of Singapore whose population and territory are tiny compared to ours. They also introduced SIM registration early on so by the time the mobile phone numbers boomed, the system was already in place.

If SIM card registration is truly that helpful or miraculous, all countries would have done it as well. But the United States, which is the target of many enemies, has not done so. We should find out why they are not at all bothered by it.

The illusion of peace fears that the proposed measure can be used by government against its critics and lead to more human rights abuses:

Our country has an apalling record of human rights violations. How soon will it be before ruthless government entities, either acting on their own or thru covert orders, would use such information for illegal purposes? Law enforcement and military agencies, not to mention private indivduals with a lot of connections, have a tendency to take illegal shortcuts rather than follow legal procedures. We have a lot of unsolved cases of harassment, enforced disappearance, and yes, murder. Must we make it any more easier for them?

Here are some tweets on the issue:

Karen_DaviLa: Sino ba ang takot sa pre-paid sim card registration? Ang criminal o may masamang balak at ang may tinatago sa asawa!

Karen_DaviLa: Who is afraid of pre-paid sim card registration? The criminal or someone with evil intentions and is hiding something from the wife!

SagadaSun: I predict the Philippines goes for SIM Card Registration about the same time that the United States does.
inanperillo: On SIM Card Registration: It's a very costly exercise with no way to actually deter criminals. Changes must be done in law enforcement.
redshadow07: @ruffybiazon I don't think we need sim card registration. It's useless. Knives are used everyday in crimes. Should we register it?
IMGoryo: SIM card registration in a country/gov't known for excesses and abuses is hard to accept; not to mention we're all enterprising.@ruffybiazon
TheDaleBacar: That's just naive – Mandatory sim card registration? If a terrorist steals my sim for bombing, poor me ako makukulong.

TheDaleBacar: That's just naive – Mandatory sim card registration? If a terrorist steals my sim for bombing, poor me I'd be the one in jail.

whizkidmodel: SIM card registration may not be able to deter crime NOW but it's a good start to make crime investigation process in the future easier.
I_amHolo: Hindi ako sang-ayon sa SIM card registration. Lagi akong nawawalan ng cellphone. Not to mention that it's draconian. Scary! #rundown

I_amHolo: I am not in favor of SIM card registration. I'm always losing a cellphone. Not to mention that it's draconian. Scary!

danrogayan: @jekkipascual SIM card registration is another technology-based process just like PCOS, I think there's nothing wrong if we try it.

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