Palace guarantees safety of data in contact tracing app

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace guarantees safety of data in contact tracing app
A healthcare worker prepares to take a swab of a man in Taguig City on May 8, 2020.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:52 p.m.) — The Department of Health and private firm Multi-technology Corp. (Multisys) are set to sign an agreement to ensure that the use of contact tracing system StaySafe.PH would be compliant with data privacy, confidentiality and cybersecurity laws.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said under the agreement, the function of StaySafe.PH would be limited to data collection. All data would be storied in the health department's COVID-Kaya system, he added. The agreement covers source code, data, data ownership and intellectual property.

"The IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) gave attention to all complaints of the critics of StaySafe.PH and the government will be the owner of the data," Roque said at a press briefing.

Under the agreement, the DOH shall accept the StaySafe.PH application upon the issuance of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Privacy Commission of a certification that the donation is technically feasible and secure.

The version of StaySafe.PH to be donated by Multisys must be able to perform bluetooth digital contact tracing and serve as the front-end application system for local governments.

Multisys would be given 30 days to comply with the directives in the agreement.

"Otherwise, the endorsement by the IATF to the effect that StaySafe.PH is the official contact tracing application of the government shall be withdrawn and Multisys shall migrate the data collected and stored in StaySafe.PH to the DICT, IATF Resolution No. 45 released to the media yesterday read.

Some experts are worried that the application may be used for the unauthorized collection of users' data. In a recent Facebook post, Former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio claimed that the IATF had accepted StaySafe.PH without technical vetting and had ignored a central platform he prepared.  

However, Roque said Rio's proposal was still being developed when the IATF accepted StaySafe.PH.

"IATF had to make a decision quickly and they decided that the only available technology then was StaySafe.PH," Roque said.

Roque also described as "speculative" claims that the acceptance of Rio's resignation was related to the adoption of StaySafe.PH as a contact tracing platform.

"That is purely speculative because nobody asked Usec. Rio to resign. He resigned and did not take back his resignation so it was really up to the president to accept or reject the application. It was accepted after four months," the Palace spokesman said.

At the same briefing, Roque said the interior department is planning to hire 50,000 contact tracers in July. Contact tracing seeks to identify the people who had close contact with persons infected with the coronavirus so they can be isolated.

As of June 4, the government has trained more than 15,000 contact tracing team members.

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