Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. on Sunday said he will identify those behind the passport mess
after revealing a day earlier that a private French contractor that produced the travel documents “took all the data
” when the government terminated its contract in 2015.
“Those behind the passport mess will launch a social media campaign against me. I will identify them,” Locsin said, in a Twitter post Sunday.
“Apparently the mess crosses partisan lines,” the country’s top diplomat added.
Locsin said he will not summon present and former DFA officials who may be involved in the controversy, and leave it to the Justice department and the Senate to investigate to determine the guilty parties.
“I want the problem fixed. [But] let the Senate investigate and DOJ prosecute if ever,” he said in a separate Twitter post.
Locsin disclosed the data loss on Twitter, after a user on the social media network asked him why he needed to present a birth certificate to renew his passport.
“Because previous contractor got pissed when terminated it made off with data,” Locsin replied in his post. “We did nothing about it or couldn’t because we were in the wrong. It won’t happen again. Passports pose national security issues and cannot be kept back by private entities. Data belongs to the state.”
Locsin said the DFA is now requiring holders of “older” or non-electronic passports for renewal to submit their birth certificates after the data was lost.
Assistant Secretary Elmer Cato immediately clarified that those renewing passports issued in 2010 or later need not submit birth certificates.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said charges should be filed against the former contractor which took all the user data.
“Charges should be filed if the former service contractor would not return [the records]. This is to compel that company to return the records. These are public records,” Drilon said.
Another member of the opposition, Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the DFA to explain to the public how the data was lost.
Although she blamed the Duterte administration for “gross incompetence in protecting the people’s private data,” the French company’s contract was terminated in 2015 during the Aquino administration.
“Exactly what data were lost? When, how, and under whose watch did this happen? Where did the breakdown occur? Who exactly is the responsible firm? And why aren’t they being sued for running away with such vital information?” she asked.
She said the public needs to be reassured that the data will be retrieved completely and with the highest sense of urgency and priority.
“Apart from that, the people responsible for such a gross display of incompetence should be held fully responsible,” she said.
The senator also slammed the passport processing system.
“They say, ‘go out and see the world.’ But how can our people do that if our government can’t even provide efficient passport application and renewal services to the public? Worse, it can’t be trusted to protect the citizens’ sensitive data,” Hontiveros said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said it is difficult to understand why government agencies such as the DFA and the Land Transportation Office would enter into contracts with private entities without making sure that “Those data bases in the hands of private contractors will definitely compromise vital information of individuals who have dealt with those agencies, and the number runs into millions of people,” said Lacson.
Locsin, in a Twitter exchange Wednesday, revealed that the previous contractor has made inaccessible the data it was entrusted to after its printing contract was terminated.
READ: Online identity theft cases rise
Before the contract for the production of Philippine electronic passports was awarded to the APO Production Unit Inc., the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, through a French firm, had been printing passport booklets.
Following data privacy concerns raised by the public, the National Privacy Commission said it will conduct an independent investigation to determine the facts surrounding the case.
“Any form of non-availability of personal data, infringement of the rights of data subjects, and harms from processing that include inconveniencing the public, must be adequately explained to the satisfaction of the law,” said Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro.
Meanwhile, Locsin said the “crooked” passport deal in the past is to be blamed to the entire passport mess inherited by the current administration.
“The problem started under GMA’s [former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo] DFA and got worse under PNoy’s (former president Benigno Aquino III) DFA. It will be solved by President Rodrigo Duterte’s DFA under Locsin,” he said.
“The yellow crowd who perpetrated the passport fraud are in panic because we are going to autopsy their crooked deal,” he added.
In August 2006, the BSP entered into a memorandum of agreement with DFA for the production of machine-readable electronic passports.
The central bank awarded through bidding the main part of the project to French company Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciare. With PNA
READ: DFA allays fears over data 'theft'