By Ferdinand Patinio, January 19, 2023; Philippine News Agency

MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) continues to upgrade its information technology (IT) capacity and security to prevent hacking and data breach, spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco said on Thursday.

Laudiangco issued the statement after the National Private Commission (NPC) cleared the Comelec and software provider Smartmatic of data privacy violations related to the 2022 elections for “lack of merit.”

“We are continuously studying and training the use of new technology, especially those related to the elections, with the help of Commissioner (Nelson) Celis, who is a known IT expert,” he said.

According to the ruling dated Sept. 22, 2022 but only released on Jan. 18, 2023, the NPC said its investigation found that Comelec and Smartmatic were “not liable” for Concealment of Security Breaches Involving Sensitive Personal Information under Section 30 of the Data Privacy Act (DPA).

The privacy body, however, will recommend to the Department of Justice the prosecution of dismissed Smartmatic employee Ricardo Argana and other individuals for unauthorized access or international breach under Section 29 of the DPA.

The case involved the alleged breach of Comelec servers, wherein an estimated 60 gigabytes of data possibly containing personal information and sensitive personal information were supposedly hacked in early January 2022.

Laudiangco said part of strengthening Comelec technological systems is the “hardening of hardware” and “escalation of encryption in all programs and software.”

“This involves all the Comelec’s system, whether those directly related to the elections or in our day-to-day operations,” he said.

The Comelec also formed a “Cybersecurity Division” as part of the Comelec – Information Technology Department.

“Our officials and personnel are currently training on cybersecurity so that we can already establish this new office, which is necessary if we are to keep in step with the advancement of technology,” Laudiangco said.