Gov't tightens leash on PH contact tracing app after ex-DICT official sounds alarm

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 11 2020 04:14 PM

Gov't tightens leash on PH contact tracing app after ex-DICT official sounds alarm 1

MANILA- Tighter security measures will be implemented on the use of state-backed contact tracing app, Malacañang said Thursday after a former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) official warned of its supposed deficiencies.

The government's inter-agency task force (IATF) on pandemic response passed on Wednesday a resolution that limits the role of the developers of the app after former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. raised concerns on its use.

"Ang function ng StaySafe.PH application ay dapat limitado sa collection ng data habang ang lahat ng collected data ay dapat i-store sa DOH COVID KAYA system," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a Palace press briefing.

(The function of the StaySafe.PH application should be limited to data collection while all collected data should be stored in the COVID-KAYA system.)

COVID KAYA is government's surveillance and contact tracing system.

"Ang gobyerno po ang magmamay-ari ng data," he added.

(Government owns the data.)

The government announced its adoption of in April.

The tighter security measures come after Rio, who led the selection for the Philippines' third telco, said Wednesday that was accepted by the IATF "without any technical vetting."

He said the app relies mostly on smartphones, making contact tracing difficult since 3G and 4G mobile internet connectivity were not available everywhere in the Philippines, and many Filipinos still used 2G phones.

"I have to break my silence to reach out to the IATF that if they only depend on StaySafe as the government contact tracing app, we would never be able to flatten this pandemic curve..." Rio said in a Facebook post.

To ensure that the use of the app adheres to cybersecurity and data privacy laws, Roque said the role of its developer, Multisys Technology Corporation, would be limited to collection of information that would then be stored with the Department of Health.

In its latest resolution, the IATF also ordered Multisys to enter into an agreement with the DOH over the StaySafe.PH app.

The health department is directed to accept the app only upon the issuance by the DICT and the National Privacy Commission of a certification that it is "technically feasible and secure, that systems are compatible, and that the arrangement is compliant with data privacy laws."

Should Multisys fail to meet the government's demands, the IATF said it would withdraw its endorsement of the app and data collected and stored in StaySafe.PH would be transferred to the DICT.


Rio on Wednesday said he was "eased out" of the government after he questioned the deal designating StaySafe.PH as the country's official contact tracing apply.

Roque, however, denied this saying Rio's claims was "purely speculative."

"'Yan po ay purely speculative dahil wala naman pong nagpa-resign kay dating Usec. Rio pero siya ay nag-resign, di naman po niya binawi yung resignation niya so it was really up to the President to accept or reject the application," Roque said.

(That's purely speculative because no one asked former Usec. Rio to resign, he resigned, he did not take it back so it was really up to the President to accept or reject the application.)

It can be recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte accepted Rio's resignation only in May, nearly 4 months since the former DICT official tendered it.

Responding to Rio's claims that the IATF accepted without technical vetting, Roque said it was the only available technology at the time.

"Nung pumutok po ito (When the outbreak happened) IATF had to make a decision quickly and they decided that the only available technology then was," Roque said.

Read the latest IATF resolution on the use of here: