Filling the gaps in the SIM card registration law

Filling the gaps in the SIM card registration law

IN October 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed the Republic Act (RA) 11934, or the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card Registration Act, becoming the first law signed by President Marcos since becoming the country’s chief executive.

The law was passed to tackle the spread of spam and scam messages targeting subscribers. SIM-related fraudulent activities and smishing, short for SMS phishing, occur when scammers send text messages to mobile phone users, enticing them to share personal information, transfer money or get involved in malicious schemes.

Under RA 11934, telco companies and direct sellers require valid identification documents before selling SIM cards. Those who already had a SIM card were required to register with their respective telcos within a certain time frame. Telecommunications companies were also required to keep subscriber SIM cards on file.

However, nearly two years after the law was passed, subscribers continue to receive tons of spam and scam messages. Worse, scammers who commit smishing continue to modify their fraudulent activities to target unsuspecting phone users.

Recent smishing reports include voice cloning incidents where individuals impersonated the voices of family members to unlawfully collect personal information for illegal purposes and fake traffic violation messages via text message, reportedly from the Land Transportation Office. Government agencies have also discovered how easy it is for others to register their SIM cards using a fake identity.

Last year I argued in a column that the SIM Card Registration Act could be used by the government to streamline bureaucratic services. However, since the introduction of the law, there have been many concerns about the efficiency of its implementation.

Through my interactions with some people in government, I came across some impressive innovations that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has developed. These innovations can help address the gaps in the implementation of the SIM Registration Act.

In my previous column on this topic, I emphasized how the experts implementing the SIM Card Registration Act must constantly study the infrastructure that would be built behind it. The application of the principles of privacy law must also continue to evolve and adapt to the advancement of technology and changing times.

Recently, the DICT issued a series of recommendations to address the challenges in the implementation of the SIM Card Registration Act.

In a briefer, the DICT said it has developed the National ID Verification System “eVerify” with the Philippine Statistics Authority. The National ID eVerify is a fast and reliable electronic verification procedure that allows organizations to remotely verify a customer’s identity without the need for physical documents or face-to-face meetings.

According to the DICT, the process is fast, secure and can verify over 40 different types of government IDs. Government agencies, employers and businesses, banks and financial institutions, and schools and universities can all use the system. The digital process includes features such as identity theft prevention, electronic know your customer and even facial recognition using eGov AI.

In order to eradicate fraudulent activities via SMS and enhance data protection and security, the DICT has indicated that it will encourage Public Telecommunications Operators (PTEs) to adopt the National ID eVerify system.

In addition, the DICT plans to collaborate with the National Telecommunications Commission, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Privacy Commission and PTEs to launch an information campaign on the penalties for all fraudulent acts regarding the SIM Card Registration Law.

The DICT has also made plans to collaborate with PTEs and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center to report all cases of fraudulent practices related to SIM card registration.

I hope that these continued actions by our government will fill the gaps in the implementation of the SIM Card Registration Act and provide mobile phone users in the Philippines with proper protection against smishing and digital fraud.

Attorney Jeremiah B. Belgica, REB, EnP, was the first Director General of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA). He is the founder and co-managing partner of Belgica Aranas Baldueza de la Cruz and Associates. He is also a pastor and a sought-after speaker on Christian biblical law and policy.

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