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Draft biometric SIM registration law in Philippines triggers privacy worries

Draft biometric SIM registration law in Philippines triggers privacy worries

A draft piece of regulation to render mandatory the registration of SIM cards including with biometrics in the Philippines has sparked deep concerns from the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a trade body that groups internet service and technology companies in the region.

In a letter addressed to the government of the Philippines, the coalition argues that the Act will have grave consequences for citizens whose personal information and biometrics such as fingerprints and face biometrics will be captured.

The letter states that “Companies, third parties and the state, empowered to create individual profiles and give access to vast amounts of user data, inevitably will increase the overall chances of data breaches. This is exacerbated by moving into biometric registration with fingerprints and facial recognition.”

The signing into law of the SIM Card Registration Act by President Rodrigo Duterte is likely as a parliamentary committee agreement on differences between the House and Senate versions was recently approved by the country’s Congress. A section of the approved draft provides that telcos must first register the details of those buying SIM cards before the cards are actually sold to them, adding that information such as a person’s real name and their phone numbers must also be submitted before they sign in to any social media platform.

Per the AIC, the large amounts of data to be collected could make the data subjects vulnerable to abusive practices from the government such as tracking of vulnerable groups.

In the letter, the AIC also suggests that such a move has to be properly consulted and deliberated upon by various relevant stakeholders. In this regard, it calls on “the Government of the Philippines to review the Act, study the provisions further and conduct wider consultation with industry stakeholders — both on the provisions in the existing Act and associated implementing rules and regulations.”

The bill’s proponents say the registration mandate is necessary to curb crime committed using mobile phones.

SIM card registration, often with biometrics, is common in many countries. Consumer privacy website Comparitech reported in 2020 that the trend was on the rise, but with transparency issues around the collection, storage and management of the data captured by  governments for that purpose.

A current SIM card registration process in Ghana has also been questioned from some quarters about the security and privacy of the biometric data being captured.

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