Suit urges SC to strike down SIM registry law


A PETITION was filed on Monday before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to declare unconstitutional Republic Act No. 11934, or the SIM Registration Act, on the ground that it violates the  basic constitutional rights of SIM card users.

In a 59-page petition, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and several other individuals also sought the immediate issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or a writ of preliminary injunction enjoining the implementation of the law pending the resolution of the petition.

They said there is a need to immediately enjoin the implementation of the law as more than 106 million other unregistered Filipinos stand to be disfranchised through automatic deactivation of their SIMs if they fail to comply with the April 26 deadline.

The petitioners also urged the Court to order public telecommunication entities (PTEs) to cease and desist from using, storing, transferring, and processing all information gathered into the SIM register and to destroy data already gathered.

The assailed law, according to the petitioners, is unconstitutional as it violates their right to freedom of speech by imposing a system of prior restraint; right against unreasonable searches and seizures and to privacy of communication by intruding into the petitioners’ reasonable expectation of privacy and circumventing the requirement of a judicial warrant; and substantive due process by intruding into the life, liberty, and property of petitioners.

“Given the nature of cell phones and devices connected to the internet, the SIM Registration Act partakes in the nature of prior restraint. On its face, the law chills all speech done through SIM cards if disclosure is not made,” the petition read.

“By imposing a condition to speech expressed through the modern-day equivalent of the printing press, the SIM Registration Act imposes prior restraint,” it added.

The petitioners noted that as of April 7, 2023, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) estimates that 168,977,773 SIM cards are currently in use in the country.

Of that figure, only about 62,170,268 or 36.79 percent have so far registered under the SIM Registration Act.

Thus, 63.21 percent or 106,807,505 SIM cards will be deactivated and their users will be permanently silenced when the April 26 deadline comes.

The deactivation of these SIM cards, according to the petitioners, will affect the government dissemination of public service announcements and ordinary citizens will not be able to capture, share, and discuss the misbehavior of their public servants—a right so vital in a democratic country.

Furthermore, unregistered Filipinos will be deprived of essential online services such as digital banking, online shopping, and transportation to courier services.

“Unregistered Filipinos will not be able to use internet services, websites, and social media platforms that require phone numbers as a mode of receiving one-time passwords (OTPs) to secure or recover user accounts,” the petitioners explained.

The petitioners also argued that they have reasonable expectation of privacy over their SIM cards, such as who to have or to pass on information it contains.

“As such, the law’s compelled disclosure, which is not sanctioned through a search warrant, and the subsequent exempted access of law enforcement, constitutes an unreasonable search under the Constitution,” the petitioners said.

“Filipinos’ objective expectation of privacy over their cell phones and SIM cards, learned and committed to heart because of fears of spams, scams, and surveillance, both from government and corporations, have taught us to hesitate before sharing, to vet before registering, and to adopt and update security measures whenever possible,” they added.

The petitioners also argued that the law violates free access to courts by limiting access to justice only to registered devices.

The implementation of the law, they said, would affect the effort of the Supreme Court to speed up the disposition of cases through the adaption of videoconferencing to conduct court proceedings.

“To an extent that is difficult to quantify, this Honorable Court’s technology-driven rules and guidelines have breathed new life into citizen’s rights to the speedy disposition of their cases and to free access to courts. But all these rules and guidelines rely on a foundation built on unimpeded access to SIM cards,” the petitioners said.

Named respondents in the petition were the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the National Privacy Commission, DICT, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Education, and telecommunication companies such as Globe Telecom Inc., Smart Communications, Inc., Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), Dito Telecommunity Corporation, Digitel Mobile Philippines Inc., Sun Cellular and Cherry Mobile Communications Inc.

Image credits: Alexey Novikov |