[Statement] Urging President Duterte to Veto the “SIM Card and Social Media Registration Act”

Statement Urging President Duterte to Veto the “SIM Card and Social Media Registration Act”

We urge President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to veto the bill entitled “An Act Eradicating Mobile Phone, Internet or Electronic Communication-Aided Criminal Activities, Mandating For This Purpose Ownership Registration of All Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Cards For Electronic Devices and Social Media Accounts”, also known as the “Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card Registration Act” recently ratified by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Philippines.

The intent and purpose of trying to eliminate illegal activities enabled by mobile phones, the Internet, or other electronic communication-aided crimes are noble. However, the bill is deeply flawed. It contains provisions that are overly vague, violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of association, personal privacy, and endangers the safety of Filipino citizens and children.

While the benefits of SIM card registration are still under debate, of utmost concern are the provisions on social media registration.

The law is overly vague. It does not provide the definition of “social media”, which can include blogs, business networks, collaborative projects, forums, photo sharing services, product/service review platforms, social gaming, social networks, video sharing, and virtual worlds according to experts. It treats certain actions as if they were already crimes, such as “trolling”, “hate speech”, and “spread of digital disinformation or fake news”, even though this currently finds no basis under existing Philippine laws, and then invokes them to justify the need for the law and its oppressive impositions.

It forbids the usage of fictitious identities when registering accounts, meting out the draconian punishment of a minimum of 6 years in prison and/or a fine of up to ₱200,000. Essentially, it criminalizes anonymity and pseudonymity on the Internet – legitimate norms used by individuals who wish for privacy, artists/writers who use pen and stage names, parody/entertainment accounts, activists, dissenters, human rights defenders, LGBTQI, victims of abuse, and violence, witnesses, whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and legitimate cybersecurity research and law enforcement operations.

Even the leaders who shaped our nation’s identity made use of fictitious names to freely express themselves: Jose Rizal (Laong Laan, Dimasalang), Antonio Luna (Taga-Ilog), Marcelo H. del Pilar (Plaridel), Andres Bonifacio (Agapito Bagumbayan), Emilio Jacinto (Dimas-Ilaw, Pingkian), and many others. In essence, were our heroes alive today, the state would be branding them as criminals.

Moreover, the requirement that corporations like social media providers mandatorily collect real names and private phone numbers even when they are normally optional, puts Filipino citizens in jeopardy. From a cybersecurity perspective, the law is creating additional vulnerabilities for individuals because of the potential for data breaches. Even the most well-funded companies and institutions are not immune to hacking and data leaks, like what happened to Yahoo in 2013 and 2014 and Facebook in 2019 and 2021 where the names and personal phone numbers of users were spread on the Internet. Should these reoccur and citizens’ names and phone numbers leak, it will open them to harassment, identity theft, financial crime, and other forms of harm.

Aside from these, the bill poses a dire threat to children’s safety. Forcing children to register with their real names on social media like in online games or communities may expose their real names to complete strangers on the Internet, opening them to harassment, doxing, scams, kidnapping, and even child sexual predators.

Finally, the enumerated provisions will not achieve their intended goal of eliminating illegal activities due to numerous loopholes which can be exploited by bad actors. For example, the bill cannot penalize pre-existing accounts created with fictitious names, the same with accounts created by individuals outside the Philippines. Criminals may still use fake IDs to evade being caught. And even if lawmakers issue new rules, there is no guarantee platforms will follow them – like in the case of Telegram which has ignored German government requests as it operates outside of German jurisdiction.

We pray that our good president sees wisdom in these inputs and vetoes this dangerous bill.

Click the link to read more: democracy.net.ph

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