Comelec tightens security after Smartmatic breach

Paterno Esmaquel II
Comelec tightens security after Smartmatic breach
This comes after Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon slammed Smartmatic for a breach in protocol. The 'prior knowledge and official consent' of the Comelec en banc is required before Smartmatic can make any program changes.

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday, May 13, tightened security for its canvassing system at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) after technology provider Smartmatic breached the poll body’s protocols. 

Smartmatic drew flak for changing an election-related hash code, which is part of the system receiving election results, without the Comelec en banc’s permission. The reported breach happened at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila, which hosts the server upon which media outfits base their unofficial tallies.

When asked what the protocol is, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said: “Smartmatic should have informed the commission en banc what is the problem, what are the consequences, and then [should have given] us recommendations on how to fix it. They should not have touched that program without our prior knowledge and official consent.” (READ: Tale of the hash code: Human error caused results code mismatch)

The hash code issue prompted Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim, who practically runs this year’s elections as its steering committee head, to issue a memo labeled “for strict compliance” on Friday.

In this memo, Lim reminded Smartmatic general manager Elie Moreno that the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) “has sole and absolute control” over the canvassing and consolidation system (CCS) at the PICC.

The Comelec sits as the NBOC, which is tasked to come up with the official tally of votes for senators and party-list groups. The canvassing for senators and party-list groups is done at the PICC.

The CCS is the system used in canvassing.

Referring to the CCS at the PICC, Lim told Moreno, “Henceforth, access to the same shall be subject to strict protocols.”

Lim added in his memo: “Your personnel shall not be allowed access to the same unless with specific prior authority from the NBOC or the Project Monitoring Office. In any case, access to the same shall always be under the direct supervision of a duly designated Comelec personnel.”

‘Precautionary measure’ 

The Comelec commissioner added that “as to any other equipment or system” that Smartmatic needs to examine, they need to “secure the consent of the undersigned prior to doing any action.”

“Finally, in the spirit of utmost transparency, follow the protocol of announcing any action to all parties present before undertaking the same,” said Lim, the longest serving Comelec member this year.

Lim explained that the Comelec is implementing this “as a precautionary measure in the midst of numerous concerns and speculations” about the integrity of the CCS for this year’s elections.

Guanzon, for her part, slammed Smartmatic on Friday. She also said the Venezuelan company should be liable for the unauthorized change in the hash code, as she called for an investigation.

In any case, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista assured the public “there is no cheating whatsoever” despite the breach.

In an interview, Lim added that the hash code issue had already been blown out of proportion to discredit the May 9 polls. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.