Victims of Military abductions surfaced due to Writ of Amparo
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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Comments on HB 1485, 2634, 3407

by Computer Professionals' Union
24 May 2005

More than its intention of protecting cellular phone subscribers, the consolidated bill is a threat to subscribers' civil liberties, convenient and affordable access to cellular service and a duplication of already existing policies which are not strongly enforced and is a potential technical, administrative and financial mess to designated entities. It could give insignificant, at worst no benefits to current and future cellular subscribers.

Consumer Protection policies should address primarily the following;

1. according the RA 7925, consumers have the right to "Entitlement of utility service which is non-discriminatory reliable and conforming with minimum standards set by the Commission."

2. "Regular, timely and accurate billing, courteous and efficient service at utility business offices and by utility company personnel." In line with this, no additional taxes should be shouldered and passed to subscribers. and protection to monopolistic tendencies must be provided.

3. technical practicality, cost affordability and easy administration in implementing such protection policies.

4. respect for political expressions.

5. protection of civil liberties, the right to privacy in particular. Indeed, there are a few that use the service for unlawful acts but it must not be the reason such that all subscribers are made suspect.

Making the above as our reference for comments on the bill, we find the following,

1. Pre-paid subscriber identity module (SIM), Electronic serial number (ESN), Mobile phone serial number (mpsn) registration runs in contrary to non-descriminatory availability of the service. Requiring registrations for prepaid users defit their original purpose for a convenient and affordable access to the service.

2. We commend its intentions to have "Regular, timely and accurate billing" in sections 5 (Billing Statement) and 7 (Unit of Billing Cellular). However, we reiterate that all of them are already, in some way, on the existing rights and responsibilities of end users in RA 7925 and its implementing rules and regulations since 1995. What happen then on the implementation of this RA and IRR?

Furthermore, determination of rates remain hidden to subscribers unlike the determination of rates of other public utilities.

3. To paint a picture on the practicality and administration of SIM registration,

When Swisscom and other providers in Switzerland implemented prepaid SIM registration in 2002, it cost them about $24-40 million. Swisscom then, the largest provider has a subscriber base of 500,000. Making a very conservative estimate based on the experience of Swisscom, it would cost about $40-$66 per user registration. Therefore, whomever will shoulder the cost of registration has to have at least $1.0B - $1.6B, assuming a 25 million prepaid users. Again, these are very conservative estimates.

However, if this is an income generating scheme for the government, it can generate such amounts from cellular subscribers, again passing the burden of government financial vialability to the people.

Consistent with the estimates above, PTEs have to register about 10 million subscribers per month in three months. Can NTC imposed this limit? Are the existing infrastructure able to handle such volume?

What IDs will be required? What informations will be asked? How will the database be secured to ensure privacy of personal data? Considering, it is well-known to Computer Professionals that there are no secured systems. If non-disclosure agreements will be signed, still subscribers are not assured of proper safekeeping of their personal data.

4. We are not the only country with such policy on prepaid SIM registration. Thailand for example, imposed it to curb insurgents' use of cellular service to detonate bomb in the South. Switzerland also imposed it to trace calls and messages from suspected Al Quida terrorists. What then is the real purpose of this Bill? We stand that the real purpose of this bill, more than its aim to protect subscribers, which are vaguely defined in the whole Bill, is similar to the mentioned examples.

In fact it attempt to disguise this purpose. In section 10 (penalties), it sactions PTEs to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations. Doing so, the Bill paves the way to surveillance of authorities to personal communications which is violation of right to privacy. Furthermore, SIM registration will not deter unlawful elements to acquire such service. Valid Ids can easily be made.

What is the likely scenario to happen? A known town with strong presence of insurgents can be monitored through the cellular sevice. Also, simple implementation of queries can be made in the database such that key active persons critical to the current administration can be monitored. In fact, everybody availing the cellular service can now be monitored by authorities with section 10.

Finally, very little benefits and protection are offered by this Bill. We urge then the gentlemen here to really discuss consumer protection based on the earlier mentioned standards. #

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