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Consumer groups continue to raise privacy concerns surrounding SIM registration

PHILIPPINE STAR/KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter 

The mandatory registration of subscriber identity module (SIM) cards for mobile phones, which began Dec. 27, continues to be plagued by unresolved privacy and disenfranchisement issues, according to consumer advocates. 

“There’s the large, unsolved issue of surveillance and privacy rights, with so much of the data being centralized into one, essential database,”  said Maded N. Batara III, spokesperson of the Junk SIM Registration Network, a multi-sectoral alliance of digital rights advocates that has been calling for the junking of Republic Act 11934, or the SIM Registration Act, since March.  

Selfie verification, which was not part of the SIM registration law’s implementing rules and regulations, is an added risk, said Mr. Batara in a Dec. 28 Zoom call. 

Ronald Gustilo, national campaigner of advocacy network Digital Pinoys, said that SIM registration won’t resolve spam issues and mobile phone scams.  

“It [the SIM registry] may actually worsen it, because the law is creating a bigger target for hackers. The database generated from this law will always be coveted and targeted by cybercriminals,” Mr. Gustilo said through Messenger on Dec. 27.  

 The first day of the mandatory registration, Dec. 27, was marked by difficulties.  

“We apologize to our mobile customers, especially those who have been wanting to take advantage of the first day of SIM registration,” said Maria Yolanda C. Crisanto, chief sustainability and corporate communications officer of the Globe Group, in a statement. The telecommunications provider found “potential minor vulnerabilities in our microsite that required careful patching in order to prevent any serious threat to customer data.”  

Globe requested until Dec. 30 from the National Telecommunications Commissions to observe its SIM registration portal, new.globe.com.ph/simreg, to ensure the technical stability of the patches.  

“Us having to temporarily make the site inaccessible is really unfortunate having prepared for this day… We have enough time to register all Globe customers in compliance with the law,” Ms. Crisanto added in a Dec. 27 e-mail.   

Smart Communications, for its part, announced on social media that it is “continuing to optimize” its registration platform, https://simreg.smart.com.ph .  

“Our overall assessment is we had a better-than-expected experience for the first day and we were able to stress test our portal,” said Cathy Y. Yang, first vice president and group head of corporate communications of PLDT, and Smart in a Facebook post. “With our current process, which is simple, easy, and secure, we will be able to register all our subscribers in the period provided by the IRR.”   

FRUSTRATION ON SOCIAL MEDIAGlobe Telecom, Inc.’s redirected subscribers to a Frequently Asked Questions page, according to tweets. Users of Smart Communications, Inc.’s services, meanwhile, reported a null status on their registration attempts.

Globe subscribers took to Globe Telecom, Inc.’s Facebook page and talked about the hassle of uploading a photo:

“ang hirap mag upload ng photo sa valid ID…” — Rosalie Rosal 

“I was trying to register but it got stuck when I was trying to upload the photo of my ID. Can you please help ? Senior citizen here.”  — Erika Efigenia Alix 

Others grumbled about glitches in the online form:   

“I tried to register my prepaid SIM online but there’s something wrong with the online form. Some of the fields don’t work, which is why I couldn’t complete the process! Not sure if you’re even aware of this. Nevertheless, can you have someone from your IT team take a look at it!” — Butch Blanco    

“Globe Telecom why is it that some of the mandatory fields is on gray. I won’t allow me to enter info” — Heaven Arthur De Luna  

Smart Communications, Inc., users on Facebook didn’t seem to fare any better at the uploading photo part of the process:  

“Sir smart, why po na bumabalik sa pag access ng otp, after pindutin yung take a photo, kanina pa po ito?” — Rommel Rufin III  

“Sablay link nyo. Pag iclick yun Take Photo bumabalik sa OTP page.” — Mark B. Delgado 

As of this writing, Smart has received close to 400,000 successful applications. Globe, meanwhile, has logged over 1.5 million registrations. 

The deadline for registration is April 26, 2023. 

“There are a hundred million SIMs in the Philippines …  How can you expect [those] in far-flung places — away from city centers — to make the 180-day timeframe?,” said Mr. Batara. “Disenfranchisement is really a large part of why we oppose the SIM registration law. We’ve seen that in action as it’s being implemented.”  

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