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Digital signatures built-in, say poll officials

By Leila B. Salaverria, Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:29:00 05/25/2010

Filed Under: Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Computing & Information Technology

MANILA, Philippines?Election officials Monday disputed the contention of Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin that the electronic results of the May 10 polls bore no digital signatures that would attest to their authenticity.

Locsin, chair said of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, said on Sunday that the election returns, on which the certificates of canvass (CoCs) and the proclamation of winners were based, were flawed because they did not contain the digital signatures as defined by the E-Commerce Act of 2000.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) did not require the three members of the board of election inspectors (BEI) to digitally sign the election returns before electronically transmitting these to the servers and canvassing centers. BEI members are usually public school teachers.

Cesar Flores, Smartmatic president for Asia Pacific, the Comelec?s technology partner, said the voting equipment, known as the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, had their own digital signatures.

?The voting machine has a digital signature in itself which is also corroborated in the card and the password that is provided to the BEIs. The BEIs when they sign the password, they encrypt the result, and the result is digitally signed,? Flores said at the House committee hearing.

Comelec resolution

Flores said the Comelec had not required BEI members to have individual signatures because of the possibility that results might not be transmitted if a BEI member had not shown up, among other reasons.

Each BEI member was required to insert his or her iButton security key intended for the digital signature in the iButton security key receptacle before the transmission of results.

A Comelec resolution directs the BEI to press ?No? when asked by the PCOS machine, if they would like to digitally sign the transmission files with a BEI signature key.

The poll body said the move was meant to remove one step in the transmission process to minimize human intervention and further protect the results of the vote.

Dennis Villorente, who chairs the Comelec?s technical evaluation committee, also explained that the Comelec deemed the use of the iButton security key, which is used to start up the machine, as sufficient because the results would not have been transmitted without this.

Compliance with the law

Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino also said the poll automation law, Republic Act No. 9369, had been complied with.

The law only requires that the election returns be electronically transmitted and digitally signed, according to Tolentino.

?The provision cited does not say that it is the BEI that should digitally sign the election results,? he said.

Locsin retorted that another law, the e-commerce law, defined what a digital signature was and required that a person should make it.

He added that the digital signature had a very specific meaning. But he also stopped Tolentino from elaborating on his explanation, saying the issue was a constitutional matter that did not involve the Comelec.

Macalintal

A former election lawyer of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo downplayed the concern raised by Locsin.

?The lack of digital signatures of election returns is neither a valid or legal ground to assail or question the results of the election nor a basis to question the inclusion of CoCs during the presidential canvass,? Romulo Macalintal said in a statement.
?Such defect, if any, is a mere ?formal defect? or defect in forms which does not affect the due execution and authenticity of the CoCs. Neither can it delay the canvass and proclamation of winners,? Macalintal said.

He added: ?While the digital signature may be required by law, [the Supreme Court] held in various cases that election laws are mandatory only before the election, but they become directory after the election, especially if making them mandatory will disenfranchise the electorate who are not parties to such defective forms.?

At the hearing, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the BEI should have had their own digital signatures when transmitting the results.

?Therefore, there is a violation of the law. And that is as clear as sunlight,? Rodriguez said.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said digital signatures were unique to each PCOS, making it difficult for it to transmit unauthorized information.

?The law says that if the document is signed, then it fits the mandate of the law. That?s what we?re saying. That the machine affixes its signature on what it transmits,? Jimenez said.

?If there is no digital signature, the machine would not transmit. We believe that [what was reported] is in compliance with law. The purpose of the digital signature is really to say to the canvassing system, ?this set of results came from this source,? and that only one source would have a specific digital signature [pertaining to a specific] precinct,? he said.

Automated padding, shaving

A lawyer claiming to be an information technology expert said that the compact flash cards, which contained the instructions for the voting machines, could be programmed to add or shave votes.

Al Vitangcol said at the hearing that all that had to be done was to change the configuration file of the cards and remove the coordinates assigned to a candidate.

He also said that the cards could be reconfigured outside Smartmatic?s plant in Cabuyao, Laguna, as long as one had the same program that Smartmatic used.

Encrypted

But Smartmatic officials disputed Vitangcol?s statements.

Flores said the flash cards could not be reconfigured by anybody else outside the Cabuyao plant.

Flores said that if the cards contained the wrong configuration, the voting machines would not have passed the testing and sealing process. Fake software programs would also cause the machine not to work.

Heider Garcia, Smartmatic electoral systems manager, said the cards were encrypted and nobody else outside of Smartmatic could have the keys needed to change their configuration.

Garcia said the technicians at Smartmatic?s secured Cabuyao plant, who were tasked with configuring the flash cards, could only ?blindly punch a button? and they did not have the option to select what kind of information would go into the card. With a report from Christian V. Esguerra



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