Editorial: Can SIM registration be effective against cyber crimes?

People who still have doubts on registering their subscriber identification module (SIM) cards due to their concerns over privacy issues have the choice not to use their smartphones.

They may access the internet on desktop or laptop computers if they have one, or they may still use their smartphones in accessing Wi-Fi. The problem though is that most of the Wi-Fi modems also use SIMs that must also be registered under the SIM Registration Law.

Cellular phones have become an extension of Filipinos who own one. The multi-functional device is used for personal entertainment, work-related tasks and business transactions on a daily basis, and it can access the internet through the telecommunication companies’ SIMs.

Meltwater, the Netherlands-based online media monitoring company, has reported that 76.01 million Filipinos spend 10 hours and 27 minutes using the internet. This number “accounts for 68 percent of the total population of the country [around 111 million in 2021]. Almost everyone accesses the internet through their personal gadgets, with 97.2 percent using a mobile phone.”

The first day of the SIM registration on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022 was marred by server issues because many Filipinos flocked to the telecommunication companies’ sites to register their SIMs.

A telco executive has seen this as a good sign, saying that it means many people are eager to follow the new law.

For privacy-buff Filipinos, Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla has issued an assurance that the SIM Registration Act “will not be used for state surveillance, red-tagging or any such nefarious purpose.”

This remains just an assurance though because there have been instances in the past that government officials themselves broke the law.

As for the new law’s effectiveness against criminal activities, that also remains to be seen.

There is no evidence that SIM card registration can prevent crimes, multiple cybersecurity experts have said.

The London-based Privacy International has reported that SIM registration has not been effective in curbing crime but instead has fueled it, according to an article written by Pola Rubio for Yahoo! News.

Privacy International said that “states that adopted SIM card registration have seen the growth of identity-related crime, and have witnessed black markets quickly pop up to service those wishing to remain anonymous. SIMs can also be easily cloned, or criminals can use foreign SIMs on roaming mode, or internet and satellite telephones, to avoid SIM registration requirements.”

One country that passed a law requiring the registration of SIM cards is Mexico. It did so in 2009, but the South American country repealed it three years later after learning the law was not effective because it instead saw an increase in crimes such as identity fraud.

In the meantime, Filipinos who want to continue using telcos’ services have no choice but to follow the new law and register their SIMs.