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Comelec downplays poll automation fears

Posted on: July 7, 2009

Comelec downplays poll automation fears

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 08:17:00 07/07/2009

Filed Under: Computing & Information Technology, Eleksyon 2010, Elections

MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) downplayed criticisms that automated polls have many weak spots and said it will install safeguards to hold clean, fraud-free elections in 2010.

Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) political analyst Bobby Tuazon said on Monday that the May 2010 elections “may end up a disaster if Comelec and the winning bidder fail to install safeguards and security measures to secure 30 vulnerable spots of the automated election system.”

“This kind of fear mongering does not do anything for the project except to undermine people’s confidence on automation. We do not have the system yet so it’s curious how they already have this list of vulnerabilities. When we come out with the system, then send this list to Comelec and [so we can] talk about it,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said on Monday.

Tuazon said the vulnerable spots include “the lack of source code review, lapses in digital signature, possible unofficial access to canvassing servers and lack of voter’s verifiability” among others, which make the automation system “prone to internal rigging, tampering and cheating.”

Responding to this, Jimenez said: “Comelec is assuring the public that we will implement safeguards to ensure that the whole process, from preparation until Election Day is secured. But before this, we will have to sign the contract first.”

Tuazon urged the Comelec to post the source code in the Internet “one or two months before customization” but Jimenez said “this is not possible.”

Jimenez said after the programs are customized for the Philippines, that is only the time Comelec will start the source code review to ensure that no malicious hardware can tamper the machines and its contents.

“Once the contract is signed, activities such as customization of the machines–through programs or set of computer instructions called source code–will follow. It will be futile to review a code not yet customized for Philippine elections months before the customization process. We tell CenPEG and other groups repeatedly we will release the schedule of the source code review and other activities once the contract is signed,” Jimenez said.

Posting the code on the Internet “will not be likely,” Jimenez said, given that the Comelec is mandated by law to guard the intellectual and proprietary right of the bidder’s source code during the review period.

“Guidelines for the source code review will be drawn up to make sure that we don’t waste our time grouping the serious from the have crackpot suggestions. In addition, we will install smart anti-virus programs that will detect, prevent and stop tampering on machines brought out by malwares or viruses aimed to destroy the system,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez assured the team who will handle the project implementation part will be composed of IT veterans with long history of experience in the technology space including some who had big IT projects in IBM and HP

The poll official added before Comelec accepts the poll machines for use in the May 2010 elections, it will hold five redundant tests for an end-to-end evaluation.

Comelec aims to sign the automation contract with winning bidder consortium of Smartmatic and Total Information Management on Friday, a month after Comelec awarded the contract on June 10.

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