POSTSCRIPT / October 16, 2022 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How SIM listing can sow confusion

In this country where we often do things at the last minute, there could be bedlam when the telcos start deactivating Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards of mobile phones that users have failed to register under RA 11934, the new law that requires their listing.

A new law (RA 11934) requires all users of SIM-operated phones and gadgets to register within 180 days after Oct. 27 with the telcos that issued their SIMs, otherwise, their gear will be deactivated. Photo: Shutterstock

The telcos, called PTEs or Public Telecommunications Entities in the new law, have 180 days after RA 11934 takes effect on Oct. 27 (or 15 days after its Oct. 12 publication in the Official Gazette) to register in databases the users of all SIMs that they have sold or issued.

After the deadline, when unregistered mobile phones and similar SIM-dependent communication devices suddenly refuse to function because they had been deactivated, we could have on our hands a near-crisis that could crack any weak government.

The law authorizes the Department of Information and Communications Technology to extend the deadline for SIM registration – but by no more than 120 days.

The much-abused Filipino may appear docile, but let nobody separate him from his cellphone, his simple source of distractions from life’s tests. Many cellphone users would be willing to skip a snack just to be able to buy “load” for their phones’ pre-paid SIM cards.

While we’re preparing for the registration of our SIM numbers, the rest of the world is already talking of SIM-less phones. In fact, RA 11934 itself may already be outdated and due for amendment even before its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) are laid down.

The National Telecommunications Commission, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Trade and Industry, National Privacy Commission, the PTEs, and major consumer groups still have to meet and formulate the IRR.

Btw, describing many of the upcoming new phones as SIM-less may be misleading. They actually have Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs), although these are embedded or built-in and cannot be physically transferred to other phones.

Under RA 11934, the registration of SIM cards may be done online. That is a welcome option. Imagine the confusion if in the rush of the deadline the estimated 140 million holders of pre-paid SIM cards flock to the stores, shops and outlets of the handful of PTEs!

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The law requires that SIMs sold by the PTEs be in a deactivated state when delivered to the intending user. They will be activated and made usable only upon their registration, which can also be at the point of sale.

Existing SIMs that users fail to register will be deactivated until registered.

The registration form containing the verified name and other personal details must be personally accomplished electronically through a platform or website maintained by the PTE. Registration of minors shall be under the name of their parents or guardians.

More personal information is required of foreigners buying and using SIMs here, including their visa status, Philippine address, work permits, travel itinerary and other details that make tracking them easier.

We saw nothing in RA 11934 about registering the SIMs in the phones carried by arriving foreigners.

In case a SIM is lost or damaged or its registered user dies, such facts must be reported by the immediate family, relatives, or guardians. All information and data in the PTE database will be preserved for 10 years after the user’s death or the deactivation of his SIM.

Information and data obtained through the registration shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed by the PTE unless in compliance with pertinent laws, a court order or legal processes upon finding of probable cause, and in accordance with the Data Privacy Act of 2012.

RA 11934 says that in case of doubt in the interpretation of its provisions, they shall be construed in a manner that accords the highest respect for privacy, and given a liberal interpretation mindful of the rights and interests of SIM subscribers.

The procedure for the implementation of the law will be defined more clearly by the IRR that will be promulgated soon.

* * *

How are the latest Apple phones to be treated? Apple has removed physical SIM card slots from its new iPhone 14 series. Instead, its new handsets feature a couple of (embedded) eSIMs, allowing users to connect to two networks simultaneously.

Only US models of the iPhone 14s do not have the physical SIM card slot. The phones sold in other countries such as the Philippines still have a physical SIM card, as well as two eSIMs. (But the models made in China will continue to have slots for physical dual-SIM cards.)

A traveler arriving in Manila with a new US-made iPhone 14 no longer has to buy a local SIM to insert in his phone to get local connection. His iPhone 14 already has a dual-eSIM to connect to local networks with no need for a physical card.

The adoption of eSIM technology is touted to be good for the environment. There are no plastic SIM cards to become trash when a user changes carriers or technology as when he upgrades to 5G.

The eSIM technology simplifies the phone’s activation. All that is needed is internet connection, which can be had over Wi-Fi. One need not go to a PTE’s store or shop to activate the phone, an option under RA 11934.

One drawback for travelers using the iPhone 14 is that it may be difficult to find expert service when needed for this new series.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 16, 2022)

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