Source codes to be available to others after Feb. 6 - Comelec


Posted at Oct 14 2009 12:03 AM | Updated as of Oct 14 2009 08:03 AM

MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will make available the source codes that will be used in the 2010 poll automation to others only after it has been certified by the company the poll body has tasked to do the mandated certification - that is, after Feb. 6, 2010.

This was announced by Comelec chair Jose Melo in a press conference Tuesday, where he introduced representatives of SysTest Labs of Colorado, USA, the winning bidder for the certification of the software and hardware components of the 2010 poll automation.

The Comelec, in a statement Oct. 8, had said that the bidding and awarding of the certification was conducted pursuant to Section 9 of Republic Act 9369, which mandates its Technical Evaluation Committee to “certify, through an established international certification entity to be chosen by the Commission from the recommendations of the Advisory Council, not later than three months before the date of the electoral exercises, categorically stating that the AES [Automated Election System], including its hardware and software components, is operating properly, securely, and accurately."

Melo, in the press conference, explained that the Comelec is mandated to engage an internationally-accepted certifier to study the software and still make changes or improvements if necessary. Source codes are human readable instructions that define what a computer equipment will do.

After which, Melo said, it can be open to review by other groups including different political parties who can read the report of SysTest Labs. Melo said they expect the company to submit its report on or before Feb. 6.

"Groundbreaking effort"

Source codes to be available to others after Feb. 6 - Comelec 1
Mark Philips of SysTest Labs

For the winning bidder’s part, Mark Philips, vice president for Compliance Services for SysTest Labs, said they were “very pleased to be a part of a groundbreaking effort as to certifying an electronic voting system.”

“We presented to the Technical Evaluation Committee a comprehensive solution that starts with source code review and then goes on to a range of other testing that will exercise the system to ensure its suitability for the very important election we know that you have been spending months if not years in planning,” said Philips.

The project, Comelec had said in its Oct. 8 statement, “will run for 4 months to be completed not later than Feb 10, 2010.”

“Release now”

The schedule, however, would be very far from what a group has been asking Comelec and has already asked the Supreme Court to compel the poll body – to immediately release the source codes to them for review.

Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), supported by members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), educators, and some members of Congress, filed a petition for mandamus before the high court last October 5.

CenPEG asked the high Court to compel Comelec to reveal the source codes that will be used in the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines of Smartmatic-TIM to be used in the 2010 poll automation.

In its petition, CenPEG cited Section 12 also of RA 9369 which states: “Once an AES technology is selected for implementation, the Commission shall promptly make the source code of that technology available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their own review thereof.”

Dr. Pablo Manalastas, senior fellow and Information Technology (IT) consultant of CenPEG, had said they filed the petition because they do not want a disaster to happen in the May 2010 polls.

“The review will reveal if the software to be used is not prone to easy manipulation, vulnerable to malicious codes and bugs which may be used to corrupt the genuine will of the people,” CenPEG said in its petition.

The IT expert also said people have a right to know how the machines that would scan, count, canvas the votes and transmit the precinct results would work.

"2-3 months"

The importance of the source code audit has previously been raised by a lawmaker.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said last August that IT experts would need at least 2 to 3 months to conduct a proper source code audit.

CenPEG said in its petition: “In order to sufficiently review a source code of such magnitude, it will take at least three (3) months for a team of programmers working full time.”

With the schedule announced by Comelec however, these groups will finish their review of the source codes on or just before election day.

The CenPeg petition is still pending with the SC.

The Comelec will use 82,200 PCOS machines which will be used for the first time in the country in the 80,000 clustered precincts for the 2010 elections. With reports from Timi Nubla, ABS-CBN News