StaySafe developer says Rio accusations ‘unfair’

Pia Ranada

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StaySafe developer says Rio accusations ‘unfair’
But Multisys CEO David Almirol Jr admits technical and privacy assessments were not yet completed when the government adopted and promoted StaySafe

MANILA, Philippines – The tech executive behind the Duterte government’s official contact-tracing app decried accusations leveled against him by former information and communications technology official Eliseo Rio Jr.

David Almirol Jr, CEO of Multisys Technologies Corp, spoke to Rappler on Wednesday, June 10, to respond to claims made by Rio and privacy concerns aired by IT experts and groups.

Multisys developed StaySafe, the digital platform and app that was named the government’s official contact-tracing app, despite lack of vetting.

“It’s unfair. I’m not a political man,” he said, adding that he was “shocked” to hear Rio’s claims. 

Almirol came to the defense of the National Task Force COVID-19, with which he signed a memorandum of agreement for StaySafe. 

“From the intention to donate to April 22 (when StaySafe was recognized in a government task force resolution), we had lots of technical meetings. We had to submit many documents and requirements, like a Privacy Impact Assessment,” said Almirol.

The firm also had to tweak features of StaySafe, like not asking for birthdays, real names, and addresses, in order to comply with the Data Privacy Act.

But Almirol admitted that though documents were submitted, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Privacy Commission (NPC) had not yet completed their review of StaySafe. NPC Commissioner Raymund Liboro had confirmed this to Rappler.

Even without the finished review, StaySafe already secured official backing and was actively promoted by the government for use of citizens.

It seems task force officials were eager to have an app to promote, even if the vetting and review process was not yet completed. 

Where is the data?

Almirol also confirmed that users data collected by StaySafe remained in the hands of his firm. But he said this was through no fault of his own.

“We want to turn it over to government already. I sent a deed of donation on May 14 to the DICT but they said we have to vet it before accepting the source code and data,” said the tech executive.

Until now, government agencies are still hashing out the details of the donation, like which agency should receive it.

Last he heard, the officials were leaning towards the Department of Health (DOH) since only this agency is exempt from data privacy laws when it comes to using personal information amid a health emergency.

Responding to concerns about the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) using users’ data to target critics or conduct surveillance, Almirol said they have not yet given the bureau access to the information.

NBI has also supposedly not asked for the data. Asked why the NBI would need it, Almirol theorized that the information can be useful to track down suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients who escape quarantine.

Almirol also sought to dispel fears about the app’s permissions, saying these are necessary for the app to effectively do contact tracing.

Asked why the app needs access to phone cameras when other contact tracing apps like Singapore’s Trace Together do not need it, he said: “This is to enable capturing of QR code. Also, the design is not nice when users don’t have a profile picture, like an avatar.”

The QR code, he said, could be used by hospital or office guards who can scan a user’s QR code to determine if they are suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases.


Almirol said he doubts StaySafe got government backing because of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. He thinks the government went for his app because he demonstrated a live system to task force officials, not just a prototype.

But he confirmed he has known Esperon since 2016 and had served as National Security Council (NSC) consultant until his contract lapsed in 2017.

Specifically, he said he demonstrated technology that could help the NSC identify fake documents. He also helped improve NSC’s office systems, like its inventory and servers. Almirol denied working on any surveillance-related project with Esperon.

At one point, Esperon was so happy with his work that when Rio and then-DICT secretary Rodolfo Salalima came by his office while Almirol was there, the National Security Adviser recommended Almirol as DICT consultant.

Almirol claims he has not had any dealings with Esperon until StaySafe. 

DICT officials seem to have big plans for StaySafe, which Almirol said surprised even him.

DICT undersecretary Manny Caintic, in a presentation to a House committee on May 12, said he envisioned StaySafe becoming the “command and control” of the coronavirus task force.

Almirol said DICT would indeed have the capability to do this if Multisys donated StaySafe to the department. –


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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.