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An Internet freedom group is opposing the proposal for mandatory SIM card registration, calling the legislation a violation of citizens’ privacy.

Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA) legal counsel JP Villasor describes the bill as “an invasion of informational privacy.”

The House of Representatives has already passed its bill that would require people to register before purchasing SIM cards, while the Senate public works committee conducted a hearing on Tuesday to discuss the measure.

Villasor, who is also dean of the School of Law at University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos, warned that such a bill may encroach not just on the privacy of an individual to make calls and text messages, but also to use their mobile phones to access the Internet.

“The objective of the law at this time is purely to monitor calls and text messages, but at some point, the surveillance may easily extend to online activity,” Villasor said, adding that it is more worrying when one considers that many people’s devices are linked up to online cloud storage accounts.

He said that SIM registration falls under a search, as considered in Art. III, Sec. 2 of the Constitution. “Real time collection of traffic data was stricken down as void and unconstitutional. SIM data is metadata; metadata that government attempts to collect from the moment the proposed bill is passed,” he said.

At the Senate hearing, a National Security Council official proposed that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) be the repository of the database if the measure seeking mandatory registration of SIM cards is enacted into law.

Lawyer Pedro Herrera-Davila, head of the legal affairs of the NSC, said making NICA the repository of the list of SIM card owners would allow the government to act immediately on incidents connected with cellphones.

The Philippine National Police has expressed support for the bill, saying it will aid in law enforcement.

But PIFA said there are no studies that show that SIM registration actually has an effect on cybercrime or cybersecurity.

“Empirical studies need to be undertaken to show that the registration of SIM would help prevent crime or achieve the other objectives of the proposed bill,” said Villasor.

Concerns about the bill can be addressed by “careful crafting of the law,” said Francis Acero, a co-founder of Democracy.Net.PH. “Congress must be careful in establishing registration, such that it is only as intrusive as it needs to be in order to fulfill its desired effect.”

Acero added, however, that he’s not sure if the current deliberations are enough to reflect the necessary level scrutiny needed to make sure that interests of both the individual and government are balanced in the proposed legislation.

“The issue isn’t as cut-and-dried as we think it may be,” Acero said. “SIM registration may be a good thing, and it may be a valuable forensic tool. However, that tool must be firmly planted within our Bill of Rights. As it stands, the mechanism for the protection of our rights under the current legal framework leaves much to be desired.”

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