Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte on Thursday expressed hope that Congress will soon enact the bill requiring the registration of postpaid and prepaid mobile phone subscriber identify module (SIM) cards to lessen mobile phone-enabled illegal activities.
“The swift congressional passage of the proposed SIM Card Registration Act is a must for the 19th Congress to better protect all mobile phone subscribers against the barrage of phone-based scams like smishing, particularly now when digital tricksters have managed to get more personal information, including the actual names of celfone users they intend to swindle,” Villafuerte said.
At the same time, Villafuerte lauded House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri for steering the Congress through the quick passage of the once-vetoed measure designed to better safeguard the country’s cellular phone owners against an overdose of spam texts and celfone-based scams.
“We commend congressional leaders led by Speaker Martin and Senate President Migz (Zubiri) for delivering on their earlier agreement in a caucus to pass before our first legislative break this October the bill requiring the mandatory registration of SIM (subscriber identification module) cards of both postpaid and prepaid celfone subscribers,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte issued this statement after the House passed by a 250-6 vote with one abstention the consolidated measure on the “SIM Card Registration Act,” which combined House Bill (HB) 14, as principally authored by Speaker Romualdez together with Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Alexander Marcos and Tingog Reps. Yedda Marie Romualdez and Jude Acidre, and with 15 other similar bills, including HB 2113 introduced by Villafuerte and fellow Camarins Sur Reps. Miguel Luis Villafuerte, Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata, and Bicol Saro Rep. Nicasio Enciso VIII who penned HB 2113.
The House gave its final nod to the measure on the same day the Senate also passed its own version under Senate Bill 1310.
The House, in passing the consolidated bill on third and final reading last Sept. 19, approved the recommendation by the House committee on information and communications technology (ICT) chaired by Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco to adopt the Romualdez-led HB 14 in consolidation with 15 other related measures.
The authors of the consolidated bill believe, according to Villafuerte, that the mandatory registration of the SIM cards of both postpaid and prepaid celfone subscribers would be a deterrent to the commission of mobile phone because (1) cyber criminals would no longer be able to commit their crimes incognito by using false identities, and (2) law enforcement agencies would find it easier to solve crimes that involve the use of cellular phones.
‘Smishing’ refers to the short message service (SMS) phishing in which scammers try to hoodwink unsuspecting celfone users into giving them personal information, like passwords and credit card numbers, that these bilkers can use to commit identity theft to, for example, duplicate the victims’ credit cards or withdraw money from their bank accounts.
By writing new legislation requiring all postpaid and prepaid celfone subscribers to register the numbers of their phone SIM cards, Villafuerte said “it will be easier for the authorities or PTEs (public telecommunications or telco entities) to trace persons behind text scams and hold them accountable for breach of privacy along with celfone-based fraud and other punishable offenses they are able to perpetrate by using unknown or unregistered mobile phone numbers.”
To get an idea of how prevalent fone-based scams have become, especially during this pandemic season, Villafuerte said telco Globe Telecom recently claimed blocking 784 million scam and spam messages this January-July 2022 period alone; deactivating 14,058 scam-linked SIM cards; and blacklisting 9,973 others.
Globe-led E-wallet company GCash has reported blocking 1.37 million fraudulent accounts from January 2021 to July 2022.
Telco PLDT and its subsidiary Smart Communications have reported, meanwhile, blocking 23 million smishing text messages in just three days.
In HB 2213, Villafuerte and his co-authors pointed out that, “The use of cellular phones is in fact attached to our everyday lives from entertainment to utilities and communications. Daily contacts are being made in the screens of our mobile phones. We communicate miles away and pay our bills with just one tap. Our reliance with technology has been undeniable for the past decade.”
They stressed in their bill that this proposed measure will “serve as a blanket, clothing our mobile phones with proper identity and contact in cases of loss and for future ease of transactions.”
Such mandatory registration is timely, they said, and is “aligned with the goals of the National ID System (Philippine National Identification System or PhilSys), which are to lower costs, streamline transactions and provide ease and convenience, in step with the rapid, and most of the time disruptive, innovations in ICT and mobile telephony.”
They pointed out that “the illegal or malicious use of fast-changing ICT developments endangers people’s lives, damages property, poses hazards to public order, and even threatens the security of nations. Thus, there is a need to promote accountability in the use of SIM cards and provide law enforcement agencies the tools to resolve crimes that involve its utilization and the platform to deter the commission of wrongdoings.”
HB 2113 has ordered PTEs or direct sellers to require their end users or subscribers to present valid identification documents with photos to ascertain their identities when they acquire SIM cards for their celfones.
The PTEs or direct sellers are further directed in the bill to require their end users to accomplish and sign control-numbered registration forms for their purchased SIM cards.
These registration forms shall include an attestation by the end users that the persons appearing before the direct sellers are the same persons who accomplished and signed the registration forms, and that the identification documents presented herein are valid and correct.
Failure of end users to comply with this requirements under HB 2113 shall be a ground for the PTEs or direct sellers to refuse the sale and issuance of SIM cards to these buyers.
Except in cases where the PTEs are the direct sellers, this bill states that the accomplished registration forms must be submitted to the concerned PTEs within 15 days from the dates of sale.
All direct sellers are mandated under the bill to register the following information in the SIM card registration forms given to every buyer or registrant: full name, dates of birth, gender and address of the end user appearing in a valid government-issued ID with a photo, like the driver’s license; passport; National ID; and the official ID of a taxpayer, senior citizen or person with disability (PWD).
End users must also include in their registration forms their respective SIM cards or respective celfone numbers and their cards’ serial numbers.
The bill requires PTEs to submit to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), within thirty (30) days from the date of effectivity of this proposed Act, the verified lists of their current authorized dealers and agents nationwide.
These PTEs are directed under HB 2113 to submit to the NTC every quarter of each year their updated lists of authorized dealers and agents.
Under HB 2113, any information in the SIM card registration shall be treated as absolutely confidential, starting from the point of sale, unless access to information has been granted upon written consent of the subscriber, and that the waiver of absolute confidentiality shall not be made a condition for the approval of subscription agreements.
But the bill requires any PTE to disclose the full name and address contained in a particular SIM card registration, “in case of a duly issued subpoena or order of the court upon finding of probable cause, or upon written request from a law enforcement agency in relation to an ongoing investigation, that a particular number was used in the commission of a crime or that it was used as a means to commit an unlawful act.”