Sotto, Imee Marcos flag 'breach' in Smartmatic ops

Raffy Cabristante and Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 17 2022 06:46 PM

Smartmatic denies breach, urges public to avoid hasty conclusions 

Senators Tito Sotto and Imee Marcos speak ABS-CBN News
Senators Tito Sotto and Imee Marcos speak to the media after the hearing of the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation held inside a restaurant in Intramuros, Manila on March 17, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Imee Marcos on Thursday flagged an alleged "breach" in the operations of Smartmatic, the tech firm supplying the automated election software for the country's May elections.

The lawmakers made the comment after a closed door session on preparations for the polls. The Commission on Election earlier denied a media report that its systems were hacked, which allegedly compromised sensitive data.

"There indeed was a security breach in the Smartmatic operation," said Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People's Participation.

While this is being investigated by the National Privacy Commission and other groups, Marcos said, "We have to admit that a very serious breach occurred."

"It may not be technically hacking. However, we feel that it compromises the processes and operations of Smartmatic in very serious ways,” said the senator, whose brother Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. is running for president.

Sotto said the Senate cannot divulge certain names involved in the incident "because they being persons of interests."

But he said, "I think this is part of what you can divulge: Merong empleyado ang Smartmatic na nilabas yung laptop niya at hinayaang well, not hack, but hinayaang makopya ng a certain group."

(There is a Smartmatic employee who took their laptop outside and let a certain group, well, not hack, but copy.)

"I think that’s as far as we can go,” added Sotto, who is running for vice president.

Marcos said the media were "right."

"Something did happen despite the vociferous denials of all institutions concerned in the past two hearings," she said.

”We don’t know but the potential for a very serious security breach is now there because it appears Smartmatic has all these contractual employees who have access to very confidential data, locations and other facilities," added the senator.

SMARTMATIC DENIES BREACH

Smartmatic denied these allegations.

"Gusto lang po naming klaruhin na hindi po yun totoo, wala pong katotohanan," said Smartmatic spokesman Atty. Christopher Louie Ocampo.

"Unang-una po ang Smartmatic, to be very clear, ay hindi po involved sa processing or storing ng personal data of any voter for the 2022 elections."

(We just want to clarify that is not true. There is no truth to that. First of all, Smartmatic, to be very clear, is not involved in processing or storing ng personal data of any voter for the 2022 elections.)

Ocampo said Smartmatic only provides the automated election system. Its servers are "completely separate and independent" from those of Comelec, he said.

"Wala pong linkage 'yan. Kahit po yung mga employees ng Smartmatic wala pong access, as in hindi po nakakakonek sa servers at system ng Comelec," he said.

(There is no linkage there. Even the employees of Smartmatic have no access, as in they cannot connect to the servers and system of Comelec.)

He appealed to lawmakers, "Humihingi po kami ng detalye para po ma-verify natin."

(We are asking for details so that we can verify.)

"Napakadali pong mag-fabricate ng mga ganitong data anyone can make these documents and post it on Facebook and say this can affect the 2022 elections. 'Yun lang po ang gusto namin na huwag naman po sana tatalon doon sa ganung conclusion," said Ocampo.

(It is very easy to fabricate these data. Anyone can make these documents and post in on Facebook and say this can affect the 2022 elections. That is all we want, for us to refrain from jumping to this conclusion.)

SOTTO SAYS PROBE SHOULD CONTINUE 

Meanwhile, Sotto said he was concerned “our election gatekeepers lacked in ensuring the integrity of the May 9 elections.”

"In our meeting today, it became clear that there was a breach in the Smartmatic systems," he said.

He added that while there was still no indication that of a compromise Comelec systems for now, it was “unfortunate” that the poll body did not ask for an executive session with the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) right after the breach occurred last January.

“It (Comelec) should have been more forthright with this information, which is critical to the elections, but instead, it even issued a gag order on Smartmatic which subsequently refused to cooperate with our investigative agencies,” he said.

Sotto also criticized the Comelec for putting “too much responsibility” on a single commissioner to handle almost all the aspects of the election.

He called on the poll body to disperse the said responsibility among other commissioners to ensure checks and balances.

“Aalamin natin kung gaano kalalim at kalawak ang inabot na pagpapabaya,” he said.

(We will find out how deep and wide the negligence may have gone.)

Sotto vowed that the Senate will investigate the issue further, especially since the May 9 elections is happening in less than two months.

“We also strongly recommend to the Comelec to adopt increased transparency and vote security measures as recommended by our various IT experts, election watchdogs, and other AES stakeholders,” added Sotto.

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