Senate probe sought into DFA passport data loss

Camille Elemia
Senate probe sought into DFA passport data loss
Senator Risa Hontiveros files a resolution calling for an investigation, saying that the implications of the controversy are 'vast'

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros wants a Senate investigation into the supposed passport data loss in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution No. 981 on Monday, January 14, urging the appropriate Senate committee to conduct a probe into the alleged loss of passport data, after an unidentified private contractor failed to turn over personal data of applicants.

“As the Philippines is about to begin implementation of the National ID System, reports such as these do not inspire confidence in the capacity of government to protect our data and its ability to police and hold accountable private contractors who process personal information,” Hontiveros said in her resolution.

Despite explanations from DFA Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr and former DFA chief Perfecto Yasay Jr, Hontiveros said “there still is no clarity as to who is responsible for the non-availability of Filipino passport data.”

The data mess, she said, could be a violation of Republic Act No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012. The law requires institutions controlling personal information to implement measures that will protect such data “against any accidental or unlawful destruction, alteration, and disclosure, as well as against any other unlawful processing.”

“As opined by data privacy legal experts, the implications of the data ‘taken’ from the DFA are vast, and leaves data subjects vulnerable to identity thieves who can use sensitive information contained in the birth certificates (such as the individual’s mother’s maiden name) to illegally access financial transactions of the data subject,” Hontiveros said.

Vice President Leni Robredo and other senators have called for government action on the issue.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson said there must be an investigation, with Drilon saying it could be done by the Commission on Audit, the Department of Justice, and the National Privacy Commission (NPC). The NPC has vowed to probe the matter.

The DFA hired at least two private contractors for passport production: BCA Corporation in 2005 and Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciare in 2008.

In 2015, the DFA opted to tap the services of APO Production Unit, a government owned and controlled corporation, which entered into a partnership with a new private contractor, United Graphic Expression Corporation.

Locsin earlier bared on Twitter that a former contractor “took off” with personal data after it supposedly “got pissed when [the contract was] terminated” by the government. But he has yet to mention the name of the contractor.

Locsin blamed past administrations for the controversy and assured the public that it would not happen again.

Some have expressed concern about their personal information being spread, but Locsin maintained that it is “not a question of data privacy.” (READ: [OPINION | Data Matters] Learning from DFA’s passport data fiasco– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com