SIM Card Registration Law: Will it put an end to cybercrimes?

With the signing of Republic Act No. 11934 or the SIM Card Registration Act, much hope is pinned on eliminating the scourge of spam. Spam, because they’re as ubiquitous as the canned meatloaf that was everywhere in the post-war years. Spam texts are, at a minimum, an inconvenience to recipients as advertisements; at worst, they are a way to commit fraud and crimes, and to threaten people. By definition, spam is sent or distributed to as many recipients as possible to increase the likelihood of catching a victim. Hence the term “phishing”. Spam that aims to defraud or defraud can now be traced back to the sender whom law enforcement authorities can now identify, arrest and bring to justice.

Will the law put an end to cybercrime?

For context, this legislation is not the first of its kind. In 2012 or exactly 10 years ago, RA 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act, in section 4(c)3 provided that unsolicited commercial communications or “the transmission of commercial electronic communications with the Use of a computer system that seeks to advertise, sell, or offer for sale products and services is prohibited.

At the time, the evil that the law sought to remedy was the indiscriminate use of technology through SMS, messages or emails that took advantage of the speed and efficiency of networks to reduce costs and increase audience. Certainly, it was a much simpler and less harmful time.

The law was designed to cover behavior considered a nuisance and therefore abhorrent: the intrusion into space and time of people who want to participate in the digital world. It also meant a lot of unnecessary traffic that affected networks.

This article was, however, challenged along with several others before the Supreme Court. The Court struck down sections of the law in 2014 for two reasons: first, the government was unable to present evidence that spam ads “reduce the efficiency of computers.” Perhaps in 2022, the courts will already be able to take note of the magnitude of the damage caused by the billions of daily spam messages that constantly circulate around the world at lightning speed. Second, the Court stated that “before the advent of the computer age, [we were] already receiving such unsolicited advertisements by mail”, which were never banned. He failed to distinguish the gaping difference between traditional snail mail, with its cost and effort, and instant modern forms with negligible per capita cost and ease at the touch of a finger.

The Court went on to say that “the addressee has the option not to open or read these postal advertisements”. This is true with spam. Their recipients always have the possibility “to delete them or not to read them”. He viewed unsolicited advertisements as legitimate forms of expression, including the flip side of not “denying[ing] a person the right to read his e-mails, even unsolicited commercial advertisements addressed to him. But today’s tech-savvy judges can now appreciate the problems of cyberspace, the concepts of opt-in and opt-out, and can treat spam for what it is: garbage that isn’t the speech.

In a sinister trajectory until today, unidentifiable or false social media posts are the defining problem in cyberspace, especially in the commission of cybercrimes.

Unfortunately, it is now moot and moot to think that if the Court had then been visionary enough to see and anticipate the problem of regulating a simpler facet of the digital space – the problem of spam in advertisements in 2012 – the many ways he mutated into 2022 may have been avoided or mitigated. Implementation is the key to a good policy outcome; execution requires experience. Ads yesterday, crimes tomorrow.

For now, the question is: will the new law put an end to spam? The short answer is no. Technology has evolved so rapidly that SIM card registration only solves part of the equation of identifying the doer or perpetrator. It cannot fight against anonymous access to the Internet by criminal actors completely independent of SIM cards.

It should also be noted that in 2012, the law on data protection was passed one month before the law on the prevention of cybercrime. Privacy rights are much better understood and asserted now, but it will take another try to explain. It will be difficult to make a one-to-one correspondence between an individual and a SIM card. A gray or black market will develop for unregistered or falsely registered people.

The best approach is to re-examine and rethink the way we regulate cyberspace. It starts with a 10-year-old systemic cybercrime law review that needs an update and a restart. In the meantime, we can continue to learn ways to protect ourselves – vigilance is the best form of protection in the physical or virtual worlds. While our decision makers try to figure out what works, spam and scams will still be everywhere.

Geronimo L. Sy,[email protected]

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