Telcos and regulators—as well as law enforcement agencies—are under pressure to improve the implementation of the SIM Registration Act, with the chief author of the measure pushing back against those who view the problem as rooted in the law.
“The problem is not with the SIM registration law, it’s in the enforcement. The law has enough teeth against fraudsters as well as safeguards to privacy of our people,” said Sen. Grace Poe, who called for a hearing by the Public Services committee to determine why scams using mobile phones still persist one year after the law’s enactment.
She said authorities should start to test the mettle of the law by arresting and penalizing text scammers.
The good provisions of the law, she added, should be put into effective use by concerned agencies, law enforcers and telecommunications companies (telcos), instead of halting its implementation.
“Authorities have the duty to effectively enforce the law. If there’s strong evidence against those caught violating it, they should be made an example of,” said the principal author and sponsor of Republic Act 11934 or SIM Registration Act.
She cited recent police raids on cybercrime hubs which led to the discovery of hundreds of pre-registered SIM cards.
“What happened to those caught with fake SIM card? Shouldn’t they be charged and jailed?” she asked.
She lamented how authorities before had cited the absence of a law in failing to run after fake SIM cards or those using them for scams. “Now we’ve given authorities the legal weapon to do this, and our people expect them to do their job,” added Poe, speaking partly in Filipino.
Poe said she expects the inclusion of the live selfie as part of the verification process in SIM registration.
The National Telecommunications Commission and telcos are discussing ways to beef up the law’s implementing rules and regulations amid the continued proliferation of text scams.
She said proposals to impose a fee starting on the fourth SIM as a deterrent to its illegal use should also be discussed.
However, she said those in charge of the SIM registration should also give consideration to legitimate companies that need to register their employees as a group.
Recently, attention was drawn to the fact that someone used the photograph of a monkey to register a SIM, a problem that regulators passed on to telcos. The latter pointed, however, to the “automatic” uploading by their system of images picked up in government IDs, which are strictly required.
According to Poe, “concerned agencies and telcos must be able to plug the loopholes in their effective implementation without halting registration.”
“Backing down against scammers is not an option,” she added.
For his part, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said, partly in Filipino, in reference to the “monkey face” case: “So that means telcos just keep accepting registrations even though the ID used is fake, or regardless of the image in the ID. In a word that means they don’t have a validation process and telcos are not doing anything to filter out whether the applicant is human or not.”
He added in a radio interview on Sunday, “that means the law has a good justification, but implementation is lacking – especially implementation by telcos.”
Gatchalian floated some options for legislators looking to amend the law so that its intended purpose can be reached. One of these is to limit the kind of IDs that can be used to register, from the current 17.
“For example, as I was looking at the law, it allows police clearance, PRC ID, OWWA I—just so everyone who needs to be listed can do so, we expanded the types of IDs,” but sadly, he said, “it has been abused.”
Yet another option, said Gatchalian, is to limit the number of SIMs that one can register, to limit the activities of scammers. He cited the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) as saying that right now, 118 million SIM cards are registered.
“The country has 70 million adults, that means even infants have SIM cards. So we concluded that many people register more than one SIM” and, he added, some of them peddle the extra registered SIMs to people who use them for crime, including those for illegal POGO operations.
However, Gatchalian himself acknowledged that this cannot be arbitrarily done and must consider the fact that certain businesses need to register multiple SIMs, especially the business sales units.
Image credits: Alexey Novikov | Dreamstime.com