By Camille A. Aguinaldo, January 13 2019; Business World


Image Credit to Business World

SENATOR AQUILINO L. Pimentel III plans to file a resolution to look into the reported passport data breach in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) involving a previous contractor.

In a text message to BusinessWorld on Sunday, the senator said he told his staff to draft the resolution so “hopefully, it could be filed this week.”

In a Twitter exchange last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said the department was “rebuilding” its files on passport applicants, which included birth certificates, after a “previous outsourced passport maker took all the data when contract (was) terminated.”

He disclosed the information on Twitter after he was addressing the concern of an overseas Filipino worker who was encountering some problems with renewing his passport.

“Because previous contractor got pissed when terminated it made off with data. 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,” Mr. Locsin said in a Jan. 9 Twitter post.

In another series of tweets on Sunday, Mr. Locsin said he wanted the “problem fixed” and left it to the Senate and the Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate and to prosecute, respectively. He also mentioned that he just wanted the process of passport renewal “quickened” by removing the birth certificate requirement.

Mr. Pimentel told reporters in a separate mobile phone message that the DFA should explain how the alleged data breach occurred. He also wanted to look into the terms of contract with the previous passport provider.

“Why is there a provision that the provider should hold all the data while the DFA has no copy? And who in DFA allowed this kind of contract? Who was the Secretary at the time?” the senator said.

“We need to know what other data gathering government agencies have entered into such a contract, which is disadvantageous to the government and the people,” he added.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay Jr provided more information in a Facebook post Saturday evening, which Mr. Locsin shared on Twitter, into the change of passport makers between 2006 and 2015.

Back in 2006, the former government official said the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas awarded, through bidding, the production of machine readable electronic passports (MREPs) to Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciare (FCOF).

But in 2015, the DFA awarded the production of a new E-Passport system to APO Production Unit, Inc. (APUI), which is under the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO). APUI then tapped United Graphic Expression Corporation (UGEC) for the production of the new E-passports, which Mr. Yasay said was a contract violation.

By early 2017 when he was DFA Secretary, Mr. Yasay recounted that chief presidential legal counsel Salvador S. Panelo demanded that all rights over the personal data and other information connected to the E-passport printing services “be reconveyed to the DFA or be acknowledged to be exclusively owned and controlled by the DFA.” Mr. Panelo purportedly said assigning the passport printing services to UGEC was “illegal.”

“Upon information and belief, it appears that UGEC which continues the illegal production of the E-passports has not complied,” Mr. Yasay said as he called for thorough investigation into the controversy. “Under the present scheme of things, the DFA cannot hold UGEC accountable for any breach or screw up in the printing of the E-passport.”

“Indeed this matter should be thoroughly investigated without any political bias or cover-up so that the whole truth, which the public deserves, will be exposed,” he added.

For her part, Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo on Sunday issued a statement calling on the government to “take action on stolen passport data.”

“It is shocking and it is scary,” the statement also quoted her in her weekly radio program.

Ms. Robredo said she agrees with Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon that the government should file a case against the former service contractor “to compel that company” to return the data.