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Telecom firms oppose SIM card registration bill

/ 05:48 AM August 12, 2015

Which should take precedence—the people’s right to “telecommunicate” or their right to protection of their lives?

That should be a no-brainer unless you’re talking of the right to use a cell phone freely—which Filipinos highly prize.

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Cell phone service providers on Tuesday maintained the subscriber identity module (SIM) card registration bill filed in the Senate would violate the people’s right to telecommunicate.

Bill author Sen. Tito Sotto countered that the right to life should be given primacy, and this is what his proposal intends to protect.

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Other government agencies also professed support for Sotto’s bill, including the Department of Justice, National Telecommunications Commission, National Security Council, Philippine National Police, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Philippine Chamber of Telecommunication Operators (PCTO), however, continued to object to the measure that would require that prepaid SIM cards be registered.

The PCTO said that while it agreed with the objective of reducing crime perpetrated through cell phones using unregistered SIM cards, it did not agree with the proposed method of doing so.

The PCTO’s Rodolfo Salalima, who is also Globe Telecom legal counsel, said the right to telecommunicate was a basic human right and this would be imperiled by the proposed law.

Salalima said one clear way this would be violated is through the provision in the bill allowing only those 15 years old and over to own a registered SIM card. This would disenfranchise younger people, he said.

It would also run counter to the government policy of bringing basic telecommunications services to all parts of the country, he said.

He said SIM card registration does not deter crime, as shown by the experience of the United Kingdom, Mexico and Kenya. No studies support the belief it is a deterrent to wrongdoing, he added.

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What would happen is that such a measure would give rise to a black market for illegitimate cell phones. People who want to commit wrongdoing would just turn to stolen phones, including those with signals obtained from roaming.

“So the intended solution will not in fact be a solution at all. Instead it will disenfranchise and cause a lot of hardship for millions of Filipinos,” he said.

But Sotto, the main proponent of the bill, disputed the arguments of the telecom firms.

He said that while he recognized and supported the right to telecommunicate, there was something more important to consider.

“When you trample on the right to life, the right to telecommunicate takes a back seat,” Sotto said.

He noted that cell phones using prepaid SIM cards had been used in kidnappings and to remotely detonate explosives.

He said there were countries where there was no need for a law requiring SIM card registration because the telecommunications companies did this themselves.

As for a black market for cell phone lines, he did not think this would happen, saying the calls would still have to pass through the telecom firms’ networks.

TOPICS: Communication, crime deterrence, PCTO, Rodolfo Salalima, Senate bill, SIM card registration, Telcos, telecom, Telecommunications, Tito Sotto
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