A CONGRESS-approved bill creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), which for months has been awaiting President Aquino’s signature, contains key provisions effectively deterring cybercrimes, such as the massive voter-data breach that is now feared to provide identity theft rings with a treasure trove of details to carry out all sorts of fraud—including making bogus accounts in banks for money launderers, among others.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto pointed to the unsigned DICT bill when asked about the recent Commision on Elections (Comelec) data breach that has raised concerns of identity theft rings having a field day harvesting personal data of voters for various uses.
This developed as Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. voiced concerns that the Comelec data breach “puts the credibility of the May 9 elections on the line.”
In a statement, Marcos advised the Comelec to treat the incident as “a very serious matter” because it not only affects the credibility of the elections, but the “safety and security of every Filipino voter,” as well.
“The Comelec should treat this as a dangerous security breach because voters’ data are made accessible to the public,” the senator said, referring to the web site www.wehaveyourdata.com, where hackers uploaded voter details from the breached Comelec web site, including birth dates, fingerprints, passport details and addresses, among others.
Saying the Comelec should explain how it happened in the first place, Marcos also prodded the poll body to “swiftly conduct a thorough probe on the incident, as it constitutes an attack on the voters’ right to privacy.”
“There are crucial information that the Comelec has secured from the voters. These are personal data entrusted to the poll body by the Filipino people,” Marcos added.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, on the other hand, indicated that senators will likely seek a “full briefing” from government investigators to assess the need for additional remedial legislation to prevent a repeat of the Comelec data breach.
“We need a full briefing from the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] Anti-cybercrime Division and other information- technology experts to guide us in crafting protective legislation to avert future eventualities,” Sotto said in a text message to the BusinessMirror.
Recto told the BusinessMirror that even before the revelations at the Senate Blue-Ribbon Committee inquiry into the $81-million cyber heist money-laundering case affirming the apparent ease with which bogus accounts can be created with help from unscrupulous bank personnel, lawmakers have approved preventive legislation, such as the pending DICT bill to deter cybercrimes.
Asked what remedial measures would lawmakers consider to pitch to banks and regulators to avoid the Comelec files on voters’ personal data being used for such evil designs, Recto replied: “For President Aquino to sign the DICT bill. It is included there.”
Under the awaited bill passed by the Senate and the House months ago, a new government agency, DICT would be created to focus on the development of the country’s growing information and communications technology (ICT) sector.
The National Telecommunications Commission, the National Privacy Commission and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center, would be attached to the DICT for the coordination and implementation of the country’s cybersecurity policies and programs.
As approved by Congress, the DICT would be created by merging existing ICT-related agencies under the departments of Science and Technology, and Transportation and Communications; namely, the Information and Communications Technology Office, the National Computer Center, the National Computer Institute, the Telecommunications Office and the National Telecommunications Training Institute.
Recto added that the pending law primarily intends to promote digital literacy and ICT expertise across the country, but also provides safeguards to address cybercrimes.
For his part, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said the measure supplements key economic reform legislation being pushed in the Senate to help the country adapt to major development challenges like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) market integration.
Drilon pointed out that the DICT bill pending in Malacañang “addresses the need for the Philippines to be at par with other Asean economies which have cabinet level departments for their ICT sector, especially with our flourishing business process outsourcing industry and digitally-savvy populace.”
According to Recto, once enacted into law, the DICT would be “the primary department in charge of developing, planning, and promoting the government’s ICT agenda.”
Creating the DICT, Recto said, would link all government ICT resources and networks under an integrated and harmonized framework, “so that knowledge is transferred, resources are shared, databases are built and agency networks are linked together.”
Moreover, Recto explained that having an integrated government database would help improve services and expedite information requests to government offices and officials, such as applications for state-issued documents. “Permits, licenses, land titles should now be electronically-applied for, processed and issued,” he added.