Last February 22, both houses of the Philippine Congress passed the “SIM Card Registration Act” in a bid to “eradicate mobile phone, internet or electronic communication-aided criminal activities.” Even granting legislators the benefit of the doubt, the content is heavily problematic and dangerously restrictive. To put it in nonsecular (specifically Catholic) terms that the government might be more inclined to entertain, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and “the devil is in the details.” In this article, we’re going to show you exactly where the devil is.
Don’t You Know Who I Am!?
Here’s an excerpt from the bill itself:
Two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000.00), or both, shall be imposed upon anyone who uses a fictitious identity to purchase and register a SIM cards (sic) or social media account.
AKA nobody can make an anonymous (or pseudonymous) account on “social media.”
This is already problematic by virtue of criminalizing alternative online identities, which is essential for many people. Dissent is an important ingredient for any healthy democracy. Activists, protesters, and organizers who are at constant risk of reprisal need anonymity to keep operating in such a hostile political environment. This is especially critical for whistleblowers who expose grave corruption and white-collar crime happening behind closed doors. Lastly, a lot of truths that need to be said are bound to offend the powers that be. If you’re going to ban pseudonyms, get ready to hear Dimasalang and Plaridel roll in their graves.
I’ll Take “What is Social Media” for $200, Alex
As if that weren’t bad enough, the bill does not even define what the hell they actually mean by “social media.” This is an absolute nightmare when it comes to limiting the scope of the bill. Some platforms are obviously included (Facebook, Twitter), but is Discord social media? Is your Viber group social media? The bill so utterly fails at specifying that they just might be. Social media would very likely be defined as “any online platform that has content the authorities disagree with.” This will doubtlessly result in a massive chilling effect and sanitation of online life, stifling our collective freedom of expression.
Speaking of freedom of expression, here’s a relevant quote about the bill from our friends at Democracy.net.ph:
It treats certain actions as if they were already crimes, such as “trolling”, “hate speech”, and “spread of digital disinformation or fake news”, even though this currently finds no basis under existing Philippine laws, and then invokes them to justify the need for the law and its oppressive impositions.
This means you can kiss satire and parodies goodbye. Do you ever share articles from The Onion? Well, I have some bad news for you, you FAKE NEWS-SHARING GODLESS SCUM!!!
Red Tape Pa More
The bill requires government identification for the simple act of buying a SIM card. A SIM card can be a critical component for a person’s well-being, most especially for the poor, providing a means to communicate with loved ones, send or receive digital money, and enable work. Adding a barrier (government ID) to this very important resource will prove quite a burden. And this burden is disproportionately heavy for those who are already poor and more likely to be undocumented and unable to afford to wait in ridiculous lines in government offices.
Security Breach Whenst??
Because they’re going to require Legit Identity Documentation™ for SIM cards and social media accounts, that means there will have to be huge collections of personal information (names, addresses, phone numbers) with the government and social media providers alike. This will most definitely end well, given their upstanding track records of respecting our privacy and securing our most sensitive information. (In case your sarcasm detector is broken, I was kidding. This is absolutely a disaster waiting to happen.)
When you’re trying to “eradicate crime” (which honestly reeks of immature populist rhetoric), the last thing you want to do is criminalize entire swaths of legitimate regular transactions and activities. Unfortunately for us, the bill has already lapsed into law. But given all the problems listed above, here are some things you can do to try to help moving forward:
- Share this article on social media to raise awareness
- Contact legislators and urge them to repeal or amend the law
- Remember to be polite and always be respectful.
- Follow @phnetdems on Twitter for updates.