Locsin says 'pissed' contractor 'took all' passport data

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 12 2019 10:54 AM | Updated as of Jan 12 2019 04:17 PM

MANILA - Some Filipinos renewing their passports may have to present their birth certificates as an additional requirement after a passport production contractor the government had terminated "made off with data," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs needs to "rebuild" its database for passports issued before 2010 because a "previous outsourced passport maker took all the data when contract terminated," Locsin said in a tweet on Jan. 9

"Applicants renewing brown or green passports or maroon machine-readable passports are required to submit birth certificates because we need to capture and store the document in our database as we no longer have the physical copy of the document submitted when they first applied," DFA Assistant Secretary Elmer Cato said in a tweet.

"Passports issued after 2009 need not submit their birth certificates as the digital copy of said document has already been captured and stored in our database," he later told ABS-CBN News.

The DFA disclosed the data loss after a netizen asked Locsin about the need to present his birth certificate to renew his travel document.

"Because previous contractor got pissed when terminated it made off with data," Locsin added in a separate post.

The DFA chief said the agency "did nothing about it or couldn't because we were in the wrong." 

"What I heard - and there are so many stories in the affected department - they sued us for wrongful termination," Locsin said.

"In fact it was the most respectable company, foreign, French even. So why? Kaching, Kaching, Kaching, Kaching," he said in a tweet. 

"And by the way, why was the previous contractor terminated? New technology? Then demand it to acquire the new technology but leave the job to it. Di ba? But that means no kickback. In short, people made money by changing contractor. Ano pa (What else)? S**t," he said.

The top diplomat did not name the French firm nor the department involved in the incident. He did not grant a request for further comment. 

Data privacy

Also responding to a netizen, Locsin said he was not sure how affected passport holders could be assured that their personal information would be protected.

"How can we be sure? I don't know. Why you guys who understand data acquisition and protection should keep up the attacks," he said.

"It won't happen again. Passports pose national security issues and cannot be kept back by private entities. Data belongs to the state," Locsin said.

ABS-CBN News reached out to Cato for comment Saturday on possible repercussions of the incident but he has yet to respond as of this posting. 

Before passport application was automated, applicants had to submit physical copies of birth and/or marriage certificates, but Locsin said he prefers to use old passports as proof of identification.

"Everybody agrees with me that old passport is 1000 percent ID better than birth certificate: the holder applied for it and not someone else for a baby," he said.

Locsin's proposal has yet to be approved and implemented by the DFA.

Senator demands explanation 

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the Duterte administration "owes the entire country an explanation" over the stolen data.

"The recent admission that a privately contracted firm took the entire physical database of all of the country's passport holders indicates a serious national security risk, and is evidence of the Duterte government’s gross incompetence in protecting the people's private data," Hontiveros said in a statement.

"Exactly what data were lost? When, how, and under whose watch did this happen? Where did the breakdown occur? Who exactly is the responsible firm? And why aren't they being sued for running away with such vital information?" she asked.

The data should "be retrieved completely and with the highest sense of urgency and priority," the lawmaker said.

"Apart from that, the people responsible for such a gross display of incompetence should be held fully responsible," she said.