Ending Anonymity

Categories: Legal, Politics, Technology
Tags: sim card

On the eve of the start of SIM card registration, there was a news report about bogus online registration sites for the telcos.

At least the fake sites were detected and the public warned about them. It’s a good guess though that we haven’t seen the last of these bogus sites.

Every self-respecting fraudster will consider SIM card registration data as a treasure trove, with access to cell phone numbers and permanent addresses.

Let’s hope the three telcos – public telecommunications entities or PTEs, as officially described in Republic Act 11934 – are fully capable of maintaining the confidentiality of our SIM card data.

As it is, I keep getting text messages from unknown numbers, promising me the moon if I click on certain links, or enticing me to win big in online casinos and e-sabong.

On Viber, ads keep returning, even after I’ve reported them as spam and clicked on the instruction not to show the item again.

Like most people, I’ve gained expertise in deleting spam or skipping ads that pop up online and in my phone. Still, it’s a nuisance to have to keep clicking them away. I hope SIM card registration will not aggravate the problem.

Yesterday, glitches galore characterized the rollout of the SIM registration. But perhaps they were simply birth pains, and the process will become smoother along the way.

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While worrying about what could go wrong in the implementation of RA 11934, it’s good to remember how we ended up with this law.

The idea had been germinating for some time, as trolls shielded by the anonymity of digital communication spread insults, hate, fake news and disinformation, making an already heavily poisoned political environment even more toxic.

Trolling must have sprung as soon as technology allowed it. I remember a guy who worked in the media team of one of the early post-EDSA presidents. He told me that they had a group of less than 10 who scanned the online news stories and commentaries daily. Any time the president’s name popped up, the guy said they would study the appropriate response. If the president was put in a bad light, they would flood the comments section with all sorts of protests, from reasonable to insulting messages. He said each member of the team held multiple online accounts created under different fictitious identities.

It’s the digital version of letters sent to our newsroom from all around the country, bearing the same messages attacking a particular group or person, written in the same print format, sent in similar envelops and with unverifiable names and addresses.

Digital accounts with bogus identities have also been used to create fake followings on social media and entice sponsors.

Apart from trolling targeting mostly political personalities and their perceived sympathizers in various sectors, the country had to contend with all sorts of digital financial scams.

So there was relatively muted protest when the registration of SIM cards was proposed. Rodrigo Duterte, in the twilight of his presidency, vetoed the original measure. His officials denied that he wanted to protect a large troll army believed to be maintained by his administration at taxpayers’ expense.

The veto, his officials explained, was mainly because it included the mandatory registration even of social media accounts. This provision is not in RA 11934.

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Over 180 countries and territories currently require SIM card registration. They run the gamut from democracies such as Australia, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland to communist China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam.

Opponents have warned that SIM card registration can violate privacy laws, and be used by repressive governments to snoop on their citizens and curb freedom of expression. Certain countries even collect biometrics for SIM use.

UK-based website Comparitech, which provides tools and comparisons of cybersecurity products and services, ranked countries and territories according to the level of invasiveness of their SIM card registration rules.

The ranking was based on whether biometrics are collected for registration, whether the data is stored by telcos or shared with the government, the requirements for law enforcement access to the data, the duration of data storage, and whether the data is amply protected by privacy laws.

Those that garnered the worst scores (0 to 8 range) were Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates. Tanzania ranked the worst with a score of 3.

As of February this year, these were the countries where SIM card registration was not required: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Cabo Verde, Comoros, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Kiribati, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Moldova, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vanuatu.

The Philippines was still included in that list; RA 11934 was signed by President Marcos only last October, with the goal of fighting cyber crime.

Proponents of SIM registration wanted to end the anonymity that allowed trolling, phishing, smishing, cyber harassment and spread of disinformation.

Now the country will have to see if the tools under RA 11934 will work.

Published on : 28/12/2022 by puertoparrot

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