Philippines Duterte blocks bill to register social media users


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Manila (AFP) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected a bill requiring social media users to register their real names and phone numbers, citing threats to free speech and privacy, his spokesman said on Friday.

The legislation, designed to tackle fake news, online abuse, SMS scams and militant bombings, also required cellphone users to provide their personal details when purchasing SIM cards.

It was approved by both houses of Congress in February, but critics said it was a form of state surveillance.

While supporting efforts to combat cybercrime and other online offenses, Duterte said he opposes the inclusion of social media user registration in the bill.

He called for “further study” of the provision, fearing it could lead to “dangerous state intrusion and surveillance threatening many constitutionally protected rights” such as privacy and freedom of speech. expression, presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said in a statement.

Filipinos rank among the biggest social media users in the world, and the country has become a key battleground for misleading or false information.

Renato Reyes, general secretary of the left-wing Bayan Alliance, welcomed the veto, saying SIM card and social media registration created a “chilling effect” for users and would not “deter crime”.

“Much of the problem is the government itself, as it directly and indirectly benefits from harmful online activity,” Reyes said in a statement.

“We should start by asking the government to stop weaponizing social media and attacking people online.”

Duterte’s 2016 election victory was bolstered by a social media campaign at a time when online misinformation was on the rise.

Critics have accused the Duterte camp of employing online trolls to praise him while attacking dissidents – even issuing death threats. Duterte denied the allegations.

Since coming to power, the authoritarian brandon has been accused of harassing or even imprisoning opponents and shutting down media outlets critical of his policies.

Duterte’s decision to block the bill comes as a torrent of misinformation floods Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter ahead of the May 9 national election.

Ferdinand Marcos Junior is leading the presidential race, while his running mate and first daughter Sara Duterte is the top running mate.

Senate President and running mate Vicente Sotto, who had backed the legislation, sarcastically responded to the veto.

“Awesome! The bombings, blackmail and scams will continue to use prepaid sims,” ​​Sotto tweeted.

Many cell phone users in the Philippines use prepaid SIM cards which they buy over the counter without giving their names and addresses to providers.

Militant groups fighting the government in the south of the country are known to favor the use of cellphones to remotely detonate improvised explosive devices, leaving police with one less way to track perpetrators.

The proposed measure may still become law if lawmakers can muster a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override the presidential veto, but that is unlikely to happen before the election.

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