President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has rejected a proposed law requiring social media users to register their real names and phone numbers, citing threats to free speech and privacy.
The legislation, designed to combat fake news, online abuse, text scams, and militant bombings, also required mobile phone users to provide their personal details when buying 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 tackle cybercrime and other online offenses, Duterte said he opposed the inclusion of social media user registration in the bill.
He called for “a more thorough study” of the provision, citing concerns it could lead to “dangerous state intrusion and surveillance threatening many constitutionally protected rights” such as individual privacy and free speech, presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said in a statement.
Filipinos rank among the world’s heaviest users of social media, and the country has become a key battleground for misleading or fake news.
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of leftist alliance Bayan, welcomed the veto, saying SIM card and social media registration created a “chilling effect” for users and would “not deter crime”.
“A big part of the problem is government itself, as it benefits directly and indirectly from nefarious online activities. We should start with demanding the government stop weaponizing social media and attacking people online.” Reyes said in a statement.
Duterte’s election victory in 2016 was underpinned by social media campaigning at a time when online misinformation was on the rise.
Critics accused the Duterte camp of employing online trolls to praise him while attacking dissenters — even issuing death threats. Duterte has denied the allegations.
Since taking power, the authoritarian firebrand has been accused of harassing or even jailing opponents and shutting down media outlets critical of his policies.