House pushes DICT and NTC for ‘immediate’ action over text scams and spams

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Following an increase in spam text messages and internet frauds, a legislator asked responsible government authorities to take swift legal action to curb the suspected exploitation of personal information.

Rep. Alfred Vargas of Quezon City raised the alarm in House Resolution 2378 on the surge in spam, fraud, and phishing efforts via text texts, which can be utilized as instruments to propagate disinformation and fake news during elections.

Vargas has requested that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), and the National Privacy Commission (NPC) undertake an extensive inquiry into the situation.

“As we enter the campaign period, urgent steps should be taken to ensure that these schemes are not weaponized into tools to spread fake news and disinformation. Our right to suffrage and the integrity of our elections may become casualties if the concerned agencies fail to act,” Rep. Alfred Vargas said in his resolution.

Vargas said it is the duty of government agencies “to protect consumers and the fundamental human right to privacy.”

“Government should stop those who take advantage of the grim situation of the pandemic for their own interests by breaching the data privacy of individuals and proliferating spam and scam text messages,” Vargas said.

He mentioned that Globe Telecom, a telecommunications company, has apparently terminated 5,670 verified spam numbers and banned 71 million spam messages this year.

Unsolicited marketing initiatives by digital marketers or spammers, according to the business, leverage “existing databases collected from public information or web data.”

He also stated that there has been an increase in complaints of questionable financial transactions, with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) registering a 57% rise in reports of suspicious transactions, suggesting an increase in financial frauds.

“Speculations from consumers that their phone numbers might have been sourced from contact-tracing forms, indicating a breach of privacy, have surfaced and must be addressed diligently and immediately,” he said.

He claims that the flood of unwanted text messages in the form of spam, scams, and phishing attempts is not only inconvenient for Filipino consumers, but also indicates a clear breach of data privacy and the possible illegal sale of private data, in violation of the Republic Act No. 10173, or the Data Privacy Act of 2012.

The NPC gathered data protection officials from telecommunication firms, online shopping platforms, and several banks earlier this week to report on spam prevention methods and other actions to combat the current spike of scam SMS soliciting and exploiting personal information. This happened after some internet users raised to worry about receiving spam text messages, a practice is known as “smishing”.

NPC Commissioner Raymund Liboro denied out contact tracking forms employed by institutions as the source of the smishing operations, instead of blaming a global syndicate.

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