IT WAS just a regular day for Michael,* a political science senior, until an unknown number called his mother. The caller claimed to be a bank employee.
Believing there was an issue with her bank transactions, his mother provided her bank details to the caller.
After some time, her mother discovered that P50,000 has been deducted from her account. She immediately alerted the bank, changed her contact details and secured her account.
“When my mother learned of the scam, she first alerted the bank wherein the said bank guided her through the necessary procedures to address the said problem. Aside from that she changed her contact information in the said bank and also got herself a new number,” Michael told The Flame.
Because of what happened to his mother, he now realized how dangerous the internet could be. Since most transactions can now be done online, personal information could be leaked and used “for malicious purposes.”
“[T]he leaks of information from the companies and institutions that handle our information could put our lives in jeopardy,” Michael said.
Technology, indeed, is a double edged sword. While it made transactions simpler, it also spawned new forms of unscrupulous schemes that target those who use online banking applications.
Scammers nowadays perform fraudulent activities in various platforms, including emails, text messages, and phone calls.
Incidents similar to that of Michael’s mother have raised concerns about the effectiveness of existing laws on data security as well as the government’s capability to protect people’s privacy and properties.
“[These sketchy text messages] contain my name (full first name with surname initial), which I think made this issue more alarming than text scams before,” fourth-year communication student Korina Dela Cruz said.
Scammers appeared to have become more tech-savvy, stoking more fears among the already alarmed populace.
“I don’t even use my full name on social media… (So) it scared me a lot when I first got this text scam where it had my name on it, and it was confusing for me as someone who receives a lot of texts for job interviews or reminders for events,” behavioral science senior Rocelly Leonen said.
Due to widespread anxiety over unsolicited messages and data breaches, the National Privacy Commission (NPC), with the help of telecommunications companies (telcos), sent public warnings about scams that target mobile phone users.
The National Telecommunications Commission and telcos also opened online platforms where people can report such schemes.
UST legal management alumnus and lawyer Enrique Dela Cruz Jr. said it is not enough for the government to release public alert messages.
“Both Congress and the executive department ought to collaborate to control, if not eliminate, these practices (text scams),” Dela Cruz Jr. told The Flame.
He acknowledged that the recently signed SIM Registration Act, which mandates mobile number registration, would assist in easily tracking the perpetrators of fraudulent schemes.
“If the number is already registered, it may no longer be used [for] fraudulent activities because the scammer may now be traced through the database of numbers,” Dela Cruz Jr. said.
The measure, which has been opposed by militant groups who claim that it would violate the privacy of citizens, is the first law signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as Chief Executive. Under the law, SIM cards that are not registered within six months since it was implemented will be deactivated.
Michael believes that while SIM registration would help address online and text scamming, it is just “one of the necessary steps towards the betterment of data privacy and security.”
“[T]his is due to the fact the field of [information technology] is wide… there is more to be done in order to fully secure our data privacy and ensure that the level of data security we have is of standard,” Michael said.
Danielito Jimenez, a lecturer at the UST legal management department, warned that SIM card registration does not guarantee the identification of perpetrators.
“Until and unless the mandatory mobile registration law is passed, there may still be [difficulties] and limitations to identify the perpetrators of these text scams though,” Jimenez told The Flame.
In a statement dated October 10, NPC admitted that adopting the SIM card registration would require “massive collection of personal data.” It also recommended developing a “technology-neutral approach” and “future-proofing” the legislation to meet its desired outcomes while upholding the public’s rights and freedoms.
Dela Cruz Jr. said imposing fines might prod individuals to follow the law and deter them from carrying out scams.
Jimenez is convinced that the issue requires a “very technical solution, ”including disabling the links in spam text messages.
“[T]hough the essence of mandating the registration (is) for the best interest of the public, by itself (it) may somehow be a deterrent to the ongoing cyber threat brought about by text scams,” he said.
Even before the proliferation of text scams, Congress passed the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 to protect Filipinos from internet crimes.
Enacted in September 2012, the law aims to preempt, prevent and prosecute all cyber crimes and online content-related offenses.
However, doubts about its capability to promote data security have been raised because of the rising threats to privacy.
As someone who witnessed how scamming works, Michael said data privacy protection in the country is weak and called for more state interventions.
“[T]he government should then lead the initiative in addressing the problems and threats that technology and the internet pose to the security of the nation,” he said.
Jimenez cited the need to amend the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 to address all internet-related wrongdoings.
“[T]here is a need to revisit some of its (the Cybercrime Prevention Act) provisions and come up with additional pieces of legislation that will have to address the continuing technological and legal issues to address all forms of Cyber Crimes,” Jimenez said.
He also called for the passage of the proposed Internet Transaction Act, which seeks to regulate consumers’ online transactions and protect their online privacy.
“An ‘Internet Transaction Act or Law’ would be most appropriate in order that other platforms may be held accountable too and force them to […] come up with measures that would prevent their platforms from being used by scheming online scammers,” he explained.
Students Leonen and Dela Cruz said that the government should take the lead in understanding the nature of text scams in the local context.
“By passing such laws without being in touch on the grassroots level of the issue, it may do more harm than protect the people of their privacy,” Leonen said.
“It would be better if [the government] would make efforts in strengthening policies that protect our digital privacy, and at the same time, coordinate with the LGUs (local governments) to spread awareness (in) their designated cities,” Dela Cruz said. F – with reports from Eduardo Fajermo Jr.
* Interviewee’s name was changed to protect his privacy