DOTr turns back on gov’t-endorsed StaySafe.PH for ‘Traze’
MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is planning the mandatory use of its own digital contact tracing app, called Traze, across transport modes starting with all airports on Nov. 28 this year.
The move boosts efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus as COVID-19 cases nationwide breached 370,000 but it also bypasses the StaySafe.Ph platform, which had been declared as the government’s “official social distancing, health condition reporting and contact tracing system.”
The DOTr on Tuesday (Oct. 27) said Traze, developed by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) with private IT firm Cosmotech Philippines Inc., will be tested on Wednesday (Oct. 28) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Clark International Airport, Mactan Cebu International Airport and Davao International Airport.
Traze uses QR code technology to log a person’s location at a given time and date. Passengers will be required to download the Traze app and scan QR codes at designated areas inside the airport.
The DOTr said passengers without smartphones or tablets should go to the Malasakit Help desk at the airport for registration and get a unique QR code.
Traze has the ability to notify other passengers should someone with the app eventually test positive for SARS Cov2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The notification contains no personal details but it allows the passengers, who may have come in contact with an infected individual, to self isolate or get a coronavirus test.
Traze contains similar features to the StaySafe.Ph app, which was developed by PLDT Inc.-backed Multisys Technologies Corp.
StaySafe.Ph has more capabilities but earlier ran into controversy as privacy advocates expressed concern over the way personal data will be handled and of potential spying on users. This was strongly denied by Multisys CEO David Almirol Jr.
One of StaySafe.Ph’s most vocal critics was former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr.
Rio said he was eased out of the DICT last May after he raised questions on the selection of StaySafe.Ph as the official contact tracing app by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
In an interview with the Inquirer on Tuesday, PPA general manager Jay Santiago said the agency did not evaluate the StaySafe system. He added that its use was not mandated despite its being chosen as the official contact tracing solution by the IATF.
“We were in the middle of development of Traze already when StaySafe was made public. That’s why we continued with Traze,” he said.
Almirol told the Inquirer that he did not know why the DOTr decided to go with its own digital contact tracing solution while explaining that StaySafe.Ph could also be integrated with other apps.
“I cannot control whatever their decision is but we are ready to be integrated,” he said on Tuesday.
Almirol said StaySafe.Ph had also grown its user base to about four million today. He said the platform is currently being co-managed by Multisys and the DICT.
StaySafe.Ph received the government’s backing as early as April. An IATF resolution on June 10 stated that all the information on its database should be migrated to the Department of Health’s (DOH) Covid-Kaya system.
The same resolution said StaySafe.Ph will be donated by Multisys and must have bluetooth contact tracing capabilities and also serve as the frontend application for local government units.
It said StaySafe.Ph will collect data while storage of the information will be handled by the DOH.
In a followup resolution on Sept. 10, the IATF reaffirmed StaySafe.Ph as its official digital healthcare solution against COVID-19.
It also revised the original agreement and allowed StaySafe.Ph’s global positioning system proximity tracker to be used by contact tracers while the DOH was designated as the personal information controller or PIC.
According to the National Privacy Commission, the PIC refers to the person or organization who controls the collection, holding, processing or use of personal information.
But it can also refer to a person or organization who allows another person or entity to collect, hold, process, use, transfer or disclose personal information on his or her behalf.
Traze has about 40,000 users and was initially launched for internal use by the PPA last September, Santiago said.
The relatively small user figures of both StaySafe.Ph (4 percent of the population) and Traze (less than one-half percent) also reveal the main weakness of digital contact tracing apps.
While they were designed to speed up the tedious manual-based contact tracing—which relies on the patient submitting to a test and the ability to recall encounters in previous days—digital solutions also require most of the public to download and use these apps.
A study released by Oxford University last April suggested that digital contact tracing apps, alongside other measures, can significantly slow the spread of the virus if used by about 60 percent of the population.
For Traze, the DOTr hopes usage will grow as it rolls out the app to millions of commuters and travellers in the Philippines.
In a statement, the DOTr said Transportation Secretary Arthur P. tugade directed the use of Traze, “which was pioneered by the PPA in ports last month.” The statement said the DOTr hoped that Traze “will eventually be utilized across all modes of transportation.”
It said Traze, given nationwide coverage, “has complete modules to trace individuals, establishments, logistics and transportation systems.” The app, the statement said, can be used in trains, ships, airplanes, jeepneys, taxicabs and other public utility vehicles, including tricycles.
According to the DOTr, Traze is compliant with Republic Act No. 1017 or the Data Privacy Act.
The data can be shared with government and law enforcement agencies “to comply with the law, by court order or other legal process.”
Data can also be shared with third parties to enforce the legal rights of Traze aside from data processors, cloud storage providers and analytics services.
Traze said scanning data will be kept for 30 days before these are deleted. User consents given for using the app can be withdrawn at any time.
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