House probe eyed on gov't-backed contact tracing app

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 2) — Lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc on Thursday sought a probe on alleged irregularities in, the official contact tracing app assisting the government's COVID-19 response.

The congressmen filed House Resolution 1009, which seeks to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, to the issues of irregularities, effectiveness, and data privacy of the app endorsed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The resolution cited the previous remarks of former Department of Information and Communications Technology undersecretary Eliseo Rio, who claimed that he was "eased out" after pointing out limitations in the feature of the contact tracing app.

Rio earlier said the app, developed for free by software solutions company MultiSys, fails as a contact tracing system.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Rio earlier pointed out that while supposedly monitors health with a location tracker, "it has no contact tracing capability as described" and simply "generates a database of cell phone numbers with their location, useful for surveillance purposes of people who reported themselves with symptoms, but of little value to people who report themselves as healthy."

The app also supposedly works on phones that use at least 3G and only in areas with mobile internet connectivity, he added.

The resolution also cited National Association of Data Protection Officers of the Philippines member Israel Brizuela who described the app as "borderline spyware" due to permissions to use each phone's camera, contacts, location, microphone, and read text messages and external storage.

"These issues surrounding StaySafe touches many grounds for thorough investigation by government bodies. From the process of selection, effectivity, and data privacy, the interests of the Filipino people are put to great risks," the Makabayan bloc said.

They added: "As all government funds, resources, and efforts, not to mention crippling borrowings, are being put into COVID-19 responses, the House of Representatives should be pro-actively on guard against issues of corruption, abuse, and breaches to the rights and welfare of our people."

Members of the Makabayan bloc are Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Eufemia Cullamat; ACT-Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago.