To be required for entry into gov't offices: Logging into StaySafe contact-tracing system

Anyone who needs to enter national government or local government offices will have to log in their information into the national coronavirus task force's official contact-tracing system, Malacañang announced on Friday, November 27.

"StaySafe.ph shall be the government’s digital contact tracing application of choice and shall be made mandatory for adoption and use in all national government agencies and instrumentalities, and Local Government Units (LGUs)," reads the task force's Resolution No 85, signed on Thursday, November 26.

Rappler asked various government officials if this means anyone who wishes to enter a national government or LGU office needs to log in their personal details into the StaySafe system.

Health department spokesman Maria Rosario Vergeire replied in the affirmative.

"It is required for others as well, also for establishments," she said in a message.

Meanwhile, Malacañang, which released the initial statement, said the statement needed no clarification.

Rules still unclear

Asked if the rule means people will have to download the StaySafe app in order to enter government offices, Vergeire said this would be made clear by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) guidelines.

There are at least two ways to use StaySafe.ph: through its app or a webpage reached by scanning a QR code.

StaySafe.ph has a feature that generates unique QR codes for a government office or private establishment. The QR code will then lead the smartphone user to an online "digital logbook," similar to those being used by many stores or malls where the user will type in details like name, contact details, and temperature.

The difference with StaySafe is that this information will go straight to the government's central database, COVID-Kaya, which is under the control of the Department of Health (DOH).

The government is also "encouraging" private establishments and offices to also use StaySafe.

Establishments or offices already using their own contract-tracing apps are "enjoined to integrate their system with the StaySafe.ph system," reads the resolution.

It is not yet clear how persons who don't own smartphones will be allowed to enter government offices. To download and use the StaySafe app, one needs a smartphone. Scanning a QR code generated by StaySafe also requires a smartphone.

It is also not clear if people who wish to enter public hospitals, which are considered government facilities, will also need to download the app in their phones.

When asked about these scenarios, Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Queenie Rodulfo said, "DICT will issue guidelines on this."

She did not elaborate on when the guidelines would be released.

Doubts raised

The Staysafe app, developed by private tech firm Multisys had previously been assailed by ICT experts and former DICT undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr over data privacy concerns.

It had been adopted by the government as its official contact-tracing app without complete vetting by the DICT and National Privacy Commission. At the time of the criticism, personal information of app users had been under the control of Multisys, a private firm.

The National Bureau of Investigation, a government body that does surveillance, had announced it would be using the app.

In response to such criticism, the government ordered Multisys, last June, to transfer all users data, app source code and controls to the Department of Health (DOH).

The DICT and NPC were also ordered to certify that StaySafe is "technically feasible and secure" and compliant with the Data Privacy Act.

Police, military in coronavirus ICT team

The coronavirus task force, in the same resolution, included the police and military in a data ease of access team that will likely cover StaySafe.ph and other ICT tools used in pandemic response.

The Data Resiliency for Ease of Access and Management (DREAM) Team is to be chaired by the DICT.

Apart from the DOH, its members include the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and a military and police division.

Specifically, these are the Armed Forces of the Philippines Information Systems Management Division (AFP ISMD) and PNP Directorate for Information and Communications Technology Management (PNP DICTM).

The DREAM Team will "deploy, build capacity, and monitor the use of ICT solutions that are part of the official COVID-19 ICT ecosystem," said the government task force.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque stressed that the DREAM Team "will not be involved in any data collection activities."

The inclusion of the AFP and PNP divisions is so they "supplement or augment the ICT capacity needed."

The DREAM Team will also join seminars to be held for local government units to train them on the use of government pandemic information systems like COVID-Kaya.

Also in charge of vaccine distribution information

The same military and police divisions are also part of a team that will design and monitor a system for managing information related to vaccine distribution.

This team will be led by the DICT and will include as members DOH and the science and technology department.

According to the task force resolution, the team will be in charge of the "design, development, deployment, monitoring and evaluation of the Philippine COVID-19 Vaccine Information Management System."

President Rodrigo Duterte previously underscored the central role he wanted the military and police to play in the much-awaited distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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