telecommunications companies

Groups call for ‘hybrid’ SIM registration as glitches hound subscribers

Lance Spencer Yu
Groups call for ‘hybrid’ SIM registration as glitches hound subscribers
(1st UPDATE) The SIM registration process threatens to cut off communication for those with limited access to registration portals, advocacy groups Digital Pinoys and Junk SIM Registration Network say

MANILA, Philippines – Advocacy groups Digital Pinoys and Junk SIM Registration Network have urged the government to make SIM registration “hybrid” instead of purely online, as glitches and other difficulties continue to hound the days-old process.

The government must ensure no subscriber loses the right to communicate while implementing the new SIM registration law, said Digital Pinoys national campaigner Ronald Gustilo.

“From early morning until late night, many people were unable to register their SIMs. The access to the registration portals were always down. And this happened because of the short period between the implementation and the release of the IRR. When you suddenly order telcos to suddenly add requirement in the registration process a day before the implementation, it’s like shooting yourself in the foot,” said Gustilo in a statement on Wednesday, December 28.

“The government needs to implement a hybrid registration process – physical registration and online registration – to assist subscribers with special needs, those without internet access and smart gadgets and those without IDs,” Gustilo told Rappler.

“Physical registration sites should also be an option for subscribers who do not wish to register online. PTEs and the government can set these up in malls, spacious terminals and other places where people converge.”

As the SIM card registration process entered its fourth day, nearly 8 million SIM cards have already been registered, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) said. As of Friday, December 30, Globe has reported 3,860,887 registered subscribers, Smart with 3,333,304, and DITO with 742,653.

For many subscribers, however, the registration process was far from smooth. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), which has launched a 24/7 service for SIM registration complaints, reported it had already received a total of 481 complaints as of Thursday, December 29.

This happened as telcos struggled to keep up with the surge in access, as subscribers reported being unable to access registration portals.

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Junk SIM Registration Network – which describes itself as an alliance of digital experts, consumers, and other concerned groups – also highlighted the lack of accessibility for SIM registrants in remote areas.

“We also have yet to see the government’s plans on information dissemination and making the registration process easier for those who live in far-flung areas. While the government has made statements regarding cooperation between LGUs and telcos to ensure an easier registration process especially for those in remote areas, we’ve seen with the National ID registration rollout and other similar rollouts how inefficient these can be,” Maded Batara III, spokesperson of Junk SIM Registration Network, told Rappler on Friday.

“We cannot put millions of Filipinos at risk of losing their only method of communication and access to the internet. In the next few weeks, we will monitor the widespread rollout of the registration process, and we hope that the government ensures that this rollout will not be used for mass surveillance, violations of privacy, or the personal agendas of politicians.”

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NTC Deputy Commissioner Jon Paulo Salvahan said telcos would offer assisted SIM card registration services in their branches. In an interview with TeleRadyo on Wednesday, Salvahan noted that DITO already offers in-store assistance for SIM card registration, while Globe will offer this starting February 2023. Smart told Rappler that they also offer an assisted SIM registration process in their stores nationwide, and that they have partnered with local government units for their SIM registration rollout.

Less scams?

Junk SIM Registration Network echoed concerns that the SIM registration law would not curb the rise of scammers.

“We don’t expect the instances of scams to be reduced with SIM registration implemented,” Batara said. “As a telco official said, it’s a cat and mouse game between scammers and those who try to catch them; they will use other mechanisms, such as phone number spoofing and black market SIMs, in order to evade detection by law enforcement.”

Digital Pinoys also criticized telcos for lacking on-the-ground information dissemination among the public. Because telcos relied on online and text advisories, the group said this actually exposed the public to a higher risk of being scammed.

“In the days leading up to the implementation of the law, the telecommunications companies warned the public about the possibility of phishing activities and fake accounts masquerading as legitimate registration sites, highlighting their own inability to prevent these threats,” the group said.

Gustilo also monitored reports of scammers using the SIM registration law as a pretext. Scammers have been messaging users that their e-wallet has been restricted and will only be unlocked if they pre-register with them in accordance with the SIM registration law.

Scammers then ask for personal information, such as your mobile number, name, address, birthday, mobile PIN to your account, and the one-time password that you will be receiving. (READ: Watch what you consent to: Telcos may use SIM registration data for marketing)

Junk SIM Registration Network has also monitored similar reports of scammers exploiting the SIM registration process.

“We’ve seen firsthand that scammers are already exploiting the SIM registration bill itself to steal people’s data and push even more scams,” Batara said. “We can say that the lack of information on how to register your SIM will allow fake accounts to prosper. We’ve seen people message our pages with their personal information because they thought we were registering their SIMs.”

“Coupled with people’s fear of their SIMs being deactivated, this lack of information will really guarantee that people fall victim to these types of scams.”

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As users grapple with access to registration sites and possible scams, Gustilo said the Department of Information and Communications Technology must take responsibility for the welfare of all SIM card users.

“The government should be responsible in ensuring that all subscribers will be registered, and no one will be left behind. Not for any reason. No individual should lose their right to communicate digitally just because of this law,” he said. – Rappler.com

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