The Department of Justice (DOJ) has supported several measures proposing the registration of prepaid Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards but expressed reservations on a proposed House Bill mandating the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and requiring telcos to equip all phones issued to postpaid users with “kill-switch” software to enhance security and privacy of mobile phone users.
In a letter addressed to Rep. Joel Roy Duavit, chair of the Committee on Information and Communications Technology, justice secretary Leila De Lima said the DOJ “lauds the intention of the proponents” but “has reservations as to the method of pre-installing the kill-switch software considering that hackers may be able to gain access to the ‘kill message’ that would be installed in these mobile phones.”
House Bill 4511 or the “Kill Switch Phone Security Act” filed by Ang Mata’y Alagaan (AMA) Partylist Rep. Lorna Velasco requires all mobile cellphone network service providers to pre-install a “kill switch” software to all cellphones issued to postpaid subscribers to enable them to remotely disable it and erase all data, when reported stolen.
“The measure aims to effectively weaken, if not eliminate completely, the black market for stop cellphones which in turn will necessarily lead to reduction in crimes related to mobile phones.”
Register SIM cards
The DOJ and Malacanang had previously supported the regulation of mobile communication through registration of prepaid SIM cards.
“According to NTC commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, it is preferable that a law be passed requiring SIM card registration. The Executive branch has manifested its support to proposed bills that are now being discussed in Congress,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in Philstar.com report.
There are at least eight measures related to SIM card registration pending in the House of Representatives — House Bills 525, 858, 1519, 2444, 2588, 2624, 3602 and 3928.
If enacted, the SIM Card Registration Act would require telecommunication companies to set up a “fool proof system” to identify prepaid mobile subscribers and the registration of prepaid SIM cards that will be recorded in a database that can be used by law enforcers to track criminals who use mobile phones to commit heinous crimes such as kidnapping and bombing.
Invasion of privacy
But according to Foundation for Media Alternatives, a nonprofit, non-government organization seeking to democratize information and communication systems and resources for citizens and communities, the SIM card registration policy “could be a violation of our citizen’s right to privacy.”
“SIM card registration had become a “new tool for monitoring citizens” and “can wrongfully implicate innocent citizens,” FMA was quoted as saying in a Businessworld online report.
Meanwhile, Tonyo Cruz of advocacy group Txt Power, said that it will take only “one rogue SIM card — perhaps stolen, on roaming, or cloned — to render the proposal ineffective.”
“It would spawn new crimes like the theft and black market. It is doubtful that criminals are shaking in their boots due to this,” Cruz said in a separate Businessworld Online report. “We look forward to seeing how Malacañang wishes to implement this in the country and across the world where Filipinos and foreigners have [local] SIM cards. And precisely how the data would be stored, accessed and used for crime fighting.”
In 2000, the NTC issued a circular requiring the registration of prepaid SIM cards but this was challenged by telcos. The Supreme Court has favored the telcos and has issued a against the directive.
As of early 2014, the estimated number of mobile phone subscribers in the country is 110 million.