Senate probe sought into alleged Comelec server hacking
MANILA, Philippines — A legislative inquiry into the hacking incident that allegedly hit the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been formally sought in the Senate as 2022 aspirants express alarm over the purported data breach.
Senator Francis Tolentino filed a still unnumbered Senate resolution on Tuesday seeking to direct the chamber’s electoral reforms committee to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, into the alleged hacking “which could potentially impact the May 2022 polls.”
“[I]t is imperative to investigate the continuous proliferation and alarming trend of cyber-attacks against the [g]overnment and private firms in the country and put an end in the manipulation, abuse and misuse of pertinent information of the public to the advantages of these online lawbreakers,” Tolentino said in his resolution.
The senator recalled the data breaches suffered by the Comelec in the past. Among them includes an incident during the 2016 polls when hackers under the banner “Anonymous Philippines” hacked into the poll body’s website “defaced it, and downloaded voter information from its servers.”
“[I]n 2017…the computer of Office of the Election Officer in Wao, Lanao Del Sur was stolen which contains data from the Voter Registration System (VRS), voter search applications, and National List of Registered Voters (NLRV),” Tolentino’s resolution further read.
The senator then stressed the “urgent need” to determine whether the Comelec “has the capacity and strong data encryption to prevent any untoward incident that may affect the upcoming elections.”
On Monday, the Manila Bulletin reported that hackers were allegedly able to breach the servers of Comelec and purportedly stole files including usernames and personal identification numbers of vote-counting machines.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, however, said those information do not exist yet in the poll body’s systems because these files have not been completed yet.
Jimenez, nevertheless, said the Comelec is validating the alleged data breach.
Other senators likewise raised concern over the alleged hacking.
“While claims that hackers managed to breach Comelec’s online servers and downloaded sensitive data are still being verified by the poll body, such allegation is worth looking into by the proper authorities,” Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who is seeking reelection in 2022, said in a statement.
“The Comelec, just like any other government institution that has in its safekeeping sensitive and very important voters’ information, is likely to be targeted by hackers especially with the elections just around the corner. This should have been anticipated early on,” he added.
To ensure that cyber security requirements are in place to prevent election results to be compromised, Gatchalian suggested that allocation for needed information technology infrastructure should be included in the Comelec’s yearly budget “considering that the law already provides for an automated system of our poll exercise.”
Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, stressed the “importance of protecting data privacy in data banks under the care of government and private agencies.”
“We cannot afford to let it all happen again, let alone allow these sensitive information to fall into the hands of unscrupulous individuals,” said Hontiveros, who is also running for another Senate term.
“As holders of these information that the public has entrusted to them, it is Comelec’s duty to protect the information from security breaches, and to preserve the integrity of the electoral process,” she added.
Senator Manny Pacquiao, a presidential aspirant, had also urged Congress to exercise its oversight function to look into the matter.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel joined Pacquiao’s call for the poll body to “give a very clear report on what happened, allow and involve political parties to investigate what happened.”
“Comelec must improve its online defenses ASAP (as soon as possible),” Pimentel said.
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