PNP 'human rights app' seeks access to phone users' calls, photos, text messages

Maan Macapagal, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 06 2017 12:29 AM

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Philippine police have rolled out a "human rights app" that seeks access to cellphone users' photos, text messages, and calls.

Several netizens have expressed concern over the “Know Your Rights” mobile application, which was launched by the Philippine National Police Human Rights Affairs Office (PNP-HRAO) to equip policemen in their operations and educate the public about their rights. 

Upon downloading the app, tech journalist Art Samaniego said he was surprised that the app requested to access his phone logs, SMS and photos. 

“Nung napanood ko sa TV Patrol, dinownload ko agad siya, meron akong napansin sa kanya. Napansin ko mayroon siyang app permission na hinihingi,” Samaniego said. 

“Nagtataka ako ang app na ito ay for information purposes at para lang siyang e-book, bakit niya i-access ang SMS ko? Bakit niya kailangang i-access ang telepono ko, bakit kailangan niyang magkaroon ng access sa picture ko?” he added. 

Another netizen expressed concern over the potential privacy risks of installing the PNP mobile app.
“Please interview IT experts about potential privacy risks of PNP app, Know your Rights, you reported on. Last night, only 100+downloads. Today, 500 na,” a Twitter user said. 

From the point of view of an IT expert, giving access to the app may be an invasion of privacy. 

“Delikado itong permission na ito dahil pwede niyang invade ang privacy ng tao, pwede niyang gamitin ang telepono mo at maglagay ng bagay sa telepono mo na hindi mo alam kase binigyan natin siya ng permiso,” Samaniego explained. 

PNP-HRAO, however, allayed concerns and claimed that the app needs access to a person's calls, photos, text messages for users to utilize app functions. 

“Ang use kase ng mga permission na yan, ma-prepare ang application sa mobile devices ng mga user gamit ang application na yon. Kase without the permission na yon sa SMS, calls, hindi nila magagamit ang mga services na pwedeng i-offer ng application na yon,” said Police Supt. Joel Usman, chief of PNP-HRAO Promotion and External Affairs Division.

Usman said access to SMS is required so that the user can send text messages through the app to send feedback.

“Matatawagan din kami ng public, in case using that application, meron silang complaint regarding human rights based don sa references na nabasa nila sa application, pwede nila kami diyang matawagan sa button na ilalagay namin sa application. Pero right now, although plan pa rin siya. Ang services na pwedeng i-offer ng application namin ay yung send feedback,” he said. 

The audio playback function of the Miranda rights also requires the access of photos and media in the smartphones, he said. 

“Yung design ng application, images yan kailangan ng app ng storage which is iyung photos permission na ginagamit natin. Kung ide-deny mo siya, hindi siya makakatakbo sa device mo,” Usman said. 

The PNP said the only motive behind the human rights mobile app is to provide information to the public. 

Samaniego, however, said the app needs to be reviewed by the PNP. 

“Ang pangit ng user interface niya. Parang di siya bagay na gamitin ng PNP sa ngayon. Kailangan nating improve ang app na ito para mawala ang pangamba ng mga tao. Kase kinakabahan ka di ba. Biruin mo magbigay ka ng information sa mga pulis,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Akbayan partylist has issued a statement saying the PNP’s human rights mobile app is not a solution to protect the public from police abuses. 

“In deadly police operations, no one expects the victims to whip out their phones and orient the police about their rights,” Akbayan said. 

Samaniego advised smartphone users to turn off access permissions for any downloaded app as a safety precaution. 

“Punta ka sa setting, punta ka sa app permission. sa mismong app, puntahan mo siya tapos i-off mo lahat ng nakalagay,”’Samaniego said.