GIS EXCLUSIVE: Security features of the automated polls must be guarded – IT expert
Marje Pelayo • February 15, 2019 • 1573
QUEZON CITY, Philippines — The automated election system’s source code goes through thorough scrutiny to ensure that not a single glitch will jeopardize the conduct of the elections.
One of the experts who conduct the review is Atty. Ivan John Enrile Uy, the former chair of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) and now corporate secretary of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce.
Uy stressed that the Commission and Election (Comelec) and Smartmatic should present to them the diagram and the servers where the election results will go through during the elections process.
“Walang problema sa technology. The technology works. The transmissions work. The VCM (vote counting machine) counting, it’s accurate. But the checks and balances, the security features, if they are activated, we will have a very good system,” Uy said.
Uy recalled that during the 2013 and 2016 polls, they noticed several irregularities in the process of the automated election.
One was the use of a queue server which was not made known to them prior to the conduct of the polls.
In 2016, they were only asked to review three software programs when there were actually 10 software programs involved in the elections.
“We found out na itong diagram na ito, may server pala dito,” Uy said while he explained what happened during the 2016 polls.
“May dinadaanan na server bago makarating dito. Hindi sinabi sa amin. Tinatanong namin: ‘Anong ginagawa ng server dyan? Sabi nyo sa amin direkta yan'”, he recalled referring to the confusion created by the said queue server.
The IT expert said that fraudulent acts during elections cannot be totally eradicated even if it’s automated. If ballot switching can be done in manual elections, SD card switching can also happen in automated polls.
Meanwhile, transmission of election results remains in question now in the 2019 polls such as the claim of Senator Tito Sotto.
“Ang layunin ng gumamit ng automated election is to minimize. It cannot eliminate itong mga dayaan. It can minimize or it can enhance depending on how you use automation,” he explained.
Manipulation of election results is still possible especially if the operators of the system, such as Comelec and Smartmatic, will conspire to do so.
“Example lang itong sa 2016, since this is the most recent. May gumalaw sa server habang tumatakbo ang eleksyon. Si Marlon Garcia, siya ang head ng Smartmatic. May kinorek daw. Violation iyan ng best practices,” he argued.
With this, Uy urged that the former head of Smartmatic Marlon Garcia and former Comelec chair Andy Bautista, to come out and shed light on whether election rigging that happened in the previous polls.
The former CICT chair challenged the Comelec to be transparent to gain the full trust of the public in the upcoming May 2019 elections. – Marje Pelayo (with reports from Rey Pelayo)
Majority of the Filipinos still favor continuing the holding of elections through an automated system in the future.
Based on Pulse Asia’s recent survey conducted last June, nine of 10 or 91% of Filipinos would still prefer having the elections done electronically.
They said an automated election system is faster and the results are immediately released.
“They feel that faster results made the Elections more credible and then it’s also easier compared to let’s say how we use to vote where you have to write the surname of the candidate,” Pulse Asia president Dr. Ronnie Holmes said.
An election watchdog, however, said that since election results were difficult to manipulate under the AES, reports of vote-buying increased.
“Vote buying became more rampant after we automated our Elections because candidates, politicians did not know how to cheat the machines,” said LENTE executive director Atty. Ona Carritos.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) believes that President Rodrigo Duterte still trusts the automated election system despite his earlier pronouncement in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) favoring the termination of the contract with Smartmatic. (with details from Aiko Miguel) /mbmf
MANILA, Philippines – It took the Philippines 18 years before it finally applied the automated election system (AES) in 2010, the time when Benigno Aquino III was named the country’s 15th President.
The plan to fully automate the electoral process was raised in 1992 by then Commission on Election (Comelec) Chairman Christian Monsod during the term of then President Fidel Ramos.
Speaking to UNTV News, Monsod explained that the main purpose of automation was to expedite the election process and to make the job easier for the Commission.
“The vision is really to have the returns faster. It’s two – accuracy and speed. Those are the two objectives,” Monsod said on Thursday (May 16).
In 1996, the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was declared a success.
It was then that the computerized election system in the country was pilot-tested using the technology provided by a U.S. company American Information System, Inc.
In December 1997, Republic Act 8436 or “An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System in the May 11, 1998 National or Local Elections and in Subsequent National and Local Electoral Exercises, Providing Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes” was signed.
However, it was applied only to specific areas like Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and not to the entire Philippines.
During the term of former President Joseph Estrada, poll automation did not push through.
In 2004, the administration of then president Gloria Arroyo awarded the P1.3B poll automation contract to Mega Pacific E-Solutions but the Supreme Court (SC) nullified the contract due to irregularities in the bidding process. A complaint against then Comelec Commissioner Benjamin Abalos Sr., other commissioners and executives of the Mega Pacific E-Solutions was filed in relation to the contract but the case did not prosper due to lack of probable cause.
It was in 2008 that Smartmatic-Sahi Joint Ventures entered a contract with Comelec as the provider of the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Technology while the Active Business Solutions Inc. and Avante International provided the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) Technology.
The said technologies were applied in the ARMM elections that time but several glitches manifested.
In 2009, the contract for the 2010 presidential elections was awarded to Smartmatic-TIM, the same technology provided tapped in the succeeding polls in 2013, 2016, and this year 2019.
This preference to Smartmatic raised doubts and questions to the credibility of the election process.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, for one, suggests that Smartmatic must be replaced by a different technology provider.
“Matagal na noong January pa (ay) sinasabi ko na yan. Ang problema noong nag-privilege speech ako (ay) nakapag-award na ang COMELEC. Remember, kasi napakadaming problema,” Sotto said.
(I have been reminding them, ever since January. But then when I gave my privilege speech, Comelec already awarded [the contract]. Remember, there were many problems before.)
The recently concluded 2019 midterm polls was not spared from glitches and problems as many SD cards appeared defective and more vote counting machines malfunctioned as compared to the election in 2016.
But the poll body argues that it is only Smartmatic that passes their bidding requirements aside from the company’s experiences in the previous elections.
Comelec added that this year, not all election materials were provided by a single supplier which, according to the agency, justifies why there were defective supplies.
“In 2016, bundled ang aming bidding…Ngayon iba ang supplier ng makina, iba ang supplier ng SD cards, iba rin ang supplier ng papel at marking pens so doon ang nakita naming problema hindi masyadong nagma-match,” argued Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas.
What the poll body is looking at this time is whether or not to still reuse the VCMs despite their service in the two consecutive elections. – (with details from Rey Pelayo) Marje Pelayo
MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Cybercrime Division assured that the automated election system (AES) in the upcoming May 13 has safeguards against hacking.
The agency said the data in the system is digitally encrypted which cannot be easily accessed.
“It is very safe system, considering na wala talagang actual incident na naimbestigahan ng NBI involving hacking or breach doon sa election system,” explained NBI Cybercrime Division Chief Atty. Vic Lorenzo.
However, Lorenzo said some problems may still be inevitable such as disruptions in the operations of the vote counting machines that’s why the agency has prepared measures for troubleshooting.
There is also NBI personnel deployed in different regions to ensure smooth conduct of the elections in May.
“Kahit na hindi deputized ang NBI ng Comelec, we are mandated to implement the law kapag may hacking incidents, because it’s a criminal offense. It’s a violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Kapag may hacking talaga, we will respond and we will investigate,” Lorenzo added.
To date, the NBI has not received any report of hacking in connection with the AES.
Meanwhile, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said the AES will be independent of any other network connections on the day of the elections from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm and any attempt to manipulate the system will be detected promptly.
“The only time it is connected to the network is when it transmits the election results, ‘yung transmission na ‘yan is a very, very quick process,” Comelec Director James Jimenez said.
“The data pocket being transmitted is encrypted. It’s encrypted with an encryption strength that is basically at par with online financial transactions which means it’s safe as money,” he added.
Despite assurance from the local code reviewers of the security of the AES, Comelec will remain on guard to maintain the integrity of the AES.
Jimenez noted that compared to the previous polls, the participation of tech provider Smartmatic will be lesser this year as they are limited only to providing technical support. – Marje Pelayo (with details from April Cenedoza)
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