The international lobby organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has raised concerns about the country’s lack of capability and preparedness to effectively implement its current thrust towards SIM card registration, citing potential breaches in data privacy.

Frederike Kaltheuner, HRW’s director for technology and human rights, said the absence of effective data protection laws and judicial oversight in the country can make data and individual profiles accumulated during the registration process vulnerable to misuse.

Kaltheuner pointed out that the planned SIM card registration “eradicates the potential for anonymity of communications, enables location-tracking, and simplifies communications surveillance and interception.”

“I know that the Philippines have a law (on data privacy) but there have been concerns about the independence and effectiveness of the DPA and judicial oversight. Data can be further shared, leaked or sold, which risks data being matched with other sources of information, such as about their health or political beliefs,” Kaltheuner said in a statement issued by HRW.

Under the proposed measure, mobile phone subscribers with prepaid SIM cards will be required to register and verify their phone numbers with their respective public telecommunications entities. Users will be asked to fill out a form that will contain their information and present a copy of a valid government ID with a photo.

Kaltheuner said this process will allow for a “comprehensive profiling of individuals”.

Kaltheuner, citing studies published by the group Privacy International, underscored the failure of similar initiatives previously undertaken by countries such as Pakistan and Mexico.

“In Pakistan, requiring SIM card registration resulted in the emergence of black markets for unregistered SIM cards, and a rise in identity fraud. Mexico’s card registration law was enacted in 2009 but was repealed just three years later after yielding no improvement in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of associated crimes,” Kaltheuner said.

He also cited a 2015 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye that compulsory SIM card registration “provide governments with the capacity to monitor individuals and journalists well beyond any legitimate government interest”.

“Mandatory SIM card registration also tends to discourage or discriminate against categories of people. Requiring people to personally appear and present identification documents in order to purchase a SIM card will prove tricky for those with limited mobility, those that live in remote places, and those who simply do not have basic documentation like birth certificates,” he added.

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