Philippine SIM registration law undermines online privacy and expression Global Voices Advox

Groups gather outside the Philippine Department of Information and Communications Technology to protest the SIM card registration law. Photo from AlterMidya’s Twitter post.

This article comes from EngageMedia, a non-profit media, technology and culture organization. This has been edited and republished here under a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.

In the Philippines, a law requiring SIM card registration and personal information disclosure for social media accounts has come into effect despite widespread opposition from rights groups and privacy advocates. Introduced to “deter the proliferation of crime assisted by SIM card, Internet or electronic communication”, the measure poses a significant threat to privacy and freedom of expression.

Under the SIM Card Registration Act, Filipinos are required to provide their personal information before purchasing and activating SIM cards. The law also includes a provision on the registration of social media accounts, stating that “all providers of social media accounts shall require [the] real name and phone number [of a user] when creating the account.

The Philippines now joins a growing list of countries passing similar laws. The deterrence of crime is invariably the stated objective of these measures, but the experience of other countries suggests the opposite. According to Privacy International, SIM card registration is “expensive, intrusive” and has not been shown to be effective in fighting crime. Additionally, digital rights advocates and cybersecurity experts point to loopholes that allow criminals to circumvent restrictions and facilitate the emergence of black markets.

Despite its intentions, the law offers no real solutions to security issues and instead poses serious risks to digital security, privacy, and freedom of expression. Combined with the controversial anti-terrorism law and the continued harassment of activists and civil society groups in the Philippines, the SIM card registration law could further aggravate already shrinking civic spaces in the country, threatening privacy and security. Filipinos.

How does the SIM card registration law threaten digital rights?

The law contains a provision requiring the use of real names and phone numbers when creating social media accounts. Those who use “fictitious identities” could face fines or jail time. Such a requirement prevents individuals from exercising their right to anonymity protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a party. Anonymity restrictions also have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected freedom of expression. Without the added security offered by anonymity, whistleblowers and human rights defenders can be at risk, particularly when disclosing information deemed critical by authorities. Ordinary citizens may feel unsafe when expressing their personal opinions and beliefs online. For the LGBTQ+ community, the law essentially forces them to use their “dead names” to avoid imprisonment.

Additionally, under the SIM Card Registration Act, personal information collected from SIM card users will be stored on a centralized server, potentially becoming a target for cyberattacks. This “SIM card registry” contains users’ personal information (such as full name, date of birth and address) and may only be used by public telecommunications entities to process, activate or deactivate subscriptions . However, cybersecurity experts warn that the security of a central database “cannot be guaranteed”.

Moreover, due to its mass of data, the SIM card registry could become a mass surveillance tool. Any Filipino SIM card user can be subject to surveillance, potentially putting whistleblowers and activists at risk. Prior to the law, human rights defenders have already reported police monitoring and surveillance of their online activities. The law, when combined with other measures that restrict freedom of expression, such as the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, “would only legalize invasion and surveillance by the authorities”.

Who spoke?

Before the measure became law on March 4, various digital rights advocates, tech groups and civil society organizations sounded the alarm about the law’s vague provisions and high potential for abuse:

In an earlier appeal urging President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the measure, the Alternative Media Foundation released a statement citing the “serious threat it poses to human rights, in particular the right to privacy and freedom of expression”. At the time of publication, 45 organizations and individuals, including EngageMedia, have backed the statement.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association for Internet and technology companies in the Asia-Pacific region, submitted a letter to the government raising security and privacy concerns regarding the law. The coalition noted that the move puts vulnerable groups “at risk of tracking and targeting, increasing the risks that their private information will be misused.”

The Union of Computer Professionals has launched a Change.org petition against the measure, saying its provisions “offer no real solution to these problems and only limit our right to privacy and put us at risk by aggregating personally identifiable information on a centralized server”.

LGBTQ+ rights group Bahaghari also joined the call against the measure, in particular criticizing the real-name registration requirement for its detrimental impact on the queer community:

Crucially, the SIM Registration Act will also criminalize transgender people and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, many of whom choose a lived name over their legal name as an important part of their gender expression.

With the measure now becoming law, digital rights groups are continuing their advocacy campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of the law while urging the Philippine legislature to repeal or amend the law:

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), along with EngageMedia and nine other human rights organizations, are calling on the Philippine legislature to repeal or substantially amend the law, citing the “serious risks” of the measure” fatally defective”:

While we recognize the need to combat fraud and other crimes, we urge the Philippine authorities to do so in a manner that respects and guarantees the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and information. , association and non-discrimination.

The UP Internet Freedom Network, an alliance of students and volunteers advocating for internet freedom, is collaborate with other organizations to continue the campaign against the measure and explore other ways to protect the right to privacy.

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