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Philippines: SIM cards – to register or not to register?

Some pundits have suggested that the recent bombing of a passenger bus in Makati City in the Philippines was designed to distract the public and government from its focused clamp down on car theft syndicates, whom for weeks now have been feeling the pressure from law enforcement agencies.

sim card

Sim Card by PublicPhoto.org via Flickr (public domain)

Whether it's true or not, its desired effect has been achieved as the public and legislators are now debating an issue that sprang from the fact that the bomb was set off using a mobile phone.

That is the proposed registration of pre-paid subscriber identity module or SIM cards through House Bill 3940. The measure is currently backed by Zambales rep. Mitos Magsaysay, Bagong Henerasyon Party-List rep. Behnadette Herrera and Isabela Rep. Giorggidi Aggabao which in turn was filed in the 15th Congress by Cagayan de Oro Rep, Rufus Rodriguez.

The proposal isn't something new. It was first debated upon back when it first introduced during the 13th Congress but has never passed the committee level.

It's long-time proponent, former Congressman Ruffy Biazon provides for a summarized rationale for the proposed SIM card registration. Francis Tan, writing for the The Next Web Asia, finds merit on the proposal and views it as ‘a step towards progress‘:

While I do believe that SIM card registration will NOT be the country’s magical solution from crime and other acts of terrorism, there are still good reasons to do so. I am for it on the grounds that adopting the new system will allow for responsibility and order to occur. Anonymity gives criminals, abusers, scammers, spammers power. It may not abolish crimes, but it will curb misuse and abuse — just as e-mail is required to use services in the Internet.

Jadestone having survived a smear attack from an anonymous person using pre-paid SIM cards, also welcomes the proposal. On the other hand, there are those who are opposed to the proposal. Prominent blogger, journalist and consumer rights advocate Tonyo Cruz offers a point-per-point attack on the proposal covering the issues of practicality, privacy and cost-effectiveness. Cocoy Dayao joins the opposition warning that registration of SIM cards would create ‘big government’ watching over our shoulders:

SIM card registration is just one of many half-assed measure that creates big government; adds a layer of bureaucracy and could be used to attack civil liberties. It does very little in fighting transnational crimes, of which both terrorism and cybercrimes really are. We need to give government the right tools for the right job. I am against SIM Card registration simply because the cost in energy to do it, outweighs the potential benefits. Given the limited resources of our government, shouldn’t we expel that energy in ways that would actually solve crime? SIM Card registration will just be part of the noise, we need to listen to the signal.

Blue Pax reminds us all that indeed, this issue of SIM card registration, simply distracts us from the things that really need our attention.

With the pros and cons of SIM card registration now being thoroughly discussed by the public online and in the media, it is now a waiting game to see where this vigorous debate will lead to.

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