Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ceding the Keys of Sovereignty

How important are the public and private keys of the Smartmatic-TIM machines in the automated election system? Some justices disagreed with the majority in the Roque v. COMELEC case (GR No 188456) in the matter of the significance of Smartmatic having possession of the public and private keys. Justice Brion cited the explanation of Prof. Manalastas, a noted expert in computer science: "the person in possession of the secret key can change the votes of the precinct."

The Constitution gave the Congress the authority to enact laws to regulate the conduct of elections to ensure that they are honest, orderly, free, and peaceful. The Constitution then assigned the COMELEC to be the enforcer of these laws. Pursuant to the Constitution, the Congress enacted RA 8436 and RA 9369 which mandated that COMELEC have exclusive control and supervision over elections.

COMELEC in its contract with Smartmatic-TIM put Smartmatic in-charge of the technical aspect of the AES. This is a violation of the law, and such provision must be declared void, according to Justice Carpio. But doing so will not dim our chances of having automated elections in 2010. Justice Carpio also pointed out that the contract contained a separability clause that would preserve the unaffected provision and oblige the parties to renegotiate the ones declared void.

All the justices seem to be eager to have automated elections. The whole country is excited to have automated elections. I personally cannot wait to see the 3-foot long ballots this May when i go to vote.

There is a reason why Congress gave COMELEC exclusive charge of the conduct of elections. A republican type of government like ours draws its authority from the people who exercise sovereignty through the representatives that they elect. Elections should reflect the sovereign will of the people. The dissenting opinions are a reminder of this principle. we can automate the elections. In fact, it automation would make for cleaner elections. But let's do it the right way.

2010 Elections: Maiden Voyage of the AES?

In the recent case of Roque v. COMELEC (GR No 188456), petitioners questioned the propriety of automating the 2010 national and local elections despite the lack of a pilot run during the 2007 elections. Petitioners posited that Sec. 5 of RA 8436, as amended by RA 9369, makes the partial automation in the 2007 elections a precondition for the nationwide automation in 2010.

The respondents, on the other hand, construe the same provision, to mean that automation of 2010 elections is mandated, regardless of the 2007 elections. Sec. 12, which provides the criteria by which the COMELEC is to choose the appropriate automated election system (AES), does not include the partial automation in the 2007 elections as a requirement.

The Supreme Court agreed with the respondents. The Court held that the law is clear in mandating the nationwide automation of the May 2010 national and local elections. The Court also pointed out that the Congress, in enacting RA 9525, was fully aware of RA 9369 and the fact that there was no automation in the 2007 elections, and that in appropriating the P11.3B for the automation of the May 2010 elections should put to rest any question as to the intent of Congress not to require the 2007 pilot run.

I think it's great that the Court validated the automation of the 2010 elections, so that we can start a new era of cleaner elections. Efforts at automating the elections began in the 90's, and yet ere we are, still awaiting the resolution of the MR. If we had been able to automate in the 2004 elections, Garci wouldn't have become as famous as he did. And he wouldn't have had the very long vacation, where no one seemed to know where he went, that he did.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

There's blood in your cellphone

Pardon the gory title, but a lot of us wouldn't even think of buying products if we knew that the production process involved cruelty to animals. "Socially conscious shopping" takes on an even more significant dimension when the cost is in human lives.

In an International Law elective class recently, a discussion of human rights violations in Sierra Leone inevitably led us to talk about "blood diamonds," made infamous by the movie of the same name. In this African country, the international trade and smuggling of diamonds financed and sustained a brutal civil war that claimed thousands of casualties. This led to the creation of an internationally accepted screening process for raw and cut diamonds, so that buyers of luxury goods could be sure that their prized gems are "certified conflict-free."

This scenario has its equivalent in the realm of technology, in the form of a metallic ore known as coltan (columbite-tantallite). It is widely used in manufacturing components of electronic gadgets like cellphones, computers, and DVD players, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the major sources of the world's coltan supply. Because of the high demand, the coltan trade became a major source of financing for the Rwandan occupation of Congo, whose unprecedented violence has actually triggered the creation of a special international tribunal to address the abuses and atrocities committed by the Rwandan military. Extensive coltan mining has also proved destructive to the environment, especially the habitats of native animal species like the African gorilla. A major expose of the issue a few years ago, particularly involving one of Sony's new gaming gadgets, has led the international market to look for alternative suppliers.

Issues such as these, with their urgency and human impact, should prompt a paradigm shift towards consumer awareness and social responsibility. At the intersections of law, policy, and technology, human rights -- as always -- also comes into play. For more on "Congo's bloody coltan, here's a video produced by the Pulitzer Center:


Just when I had managed to get a replacement for my laptop, which had conked out two months ago, I have to go through the distressful experience of losing two cellphones in as many months.

I haven't taken a bus from Philcoa to Ayala in quite some time -- if I need to go there, I usually take the MRT, which of course also harbors its share of pickpockets and snatchers -- and I had the lack of sense to ride one, exactly a week after typhoon Ondoy rendered thousands of people homeless. I had a slight fever and was thinking only about getting off the bus and buying make a long story short, my wallet and cellphone was gone, quick as a blink, by the time I reached the pharmacy. This, less than two months after I had bought a cheap Nokia unit to replace the one I had stupidly left behind on some restaurant table.

This makes me wonder whether the incidence of theft (and other crimes against property) has risen along with the popularity and availability of communications gadgets. Before, hold-uppers and petty thieves had targetted cash and jewelry; today, the cellphone is of course the most sough-after loot, since almost everybody in Metro Manila has one. Add laptops and PDAs to the list of valuable items that robbers on the prowl could possibly score, and it's easy to understand why those dubious "secondhand" shops have proliferated in the back alleys of Manila.

Yet ICT does not only make the actual physical taking (with intent to gain, says the Revised Penal Code) of tangible property more common and easier to commit; valuable data, or access to such data, could also be stolen and much profit could be had from these ephemeral bits of information. I know people who have lost their ATM cards and had cash withdrawn from their accounts, even if they've never disclosed their PINs to anyone else. A gamer friend even insists that online theft of rare artifacts, skills or score points in RPGs should be criminalized.

And therein lies the rub. The proliferation of ICT has given rise to a new standard of material value -- and hence, whole new ways of committing crime. With next year's automated elections triggering massive concern about data security, the need to develop a legal framework to address cybercrime has become even more urgent. In a country that has seen the Garci scandal, the Hayden Kho videos, and the Human Security Act, it's about time that our laws caught up with the challenges posed by technology and its transformative effects -- the good, the bad, and the simply preposterous -- on human lives.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Out-of-reach, reaching out.

In the past week, I survived…

Neck-deep, muddy flood waters,
Two days with minimal food and water intake,
Three days without cellphone signal,
Four days without electricity,
Nine days without internet.

But while the flood was ruining the entire first floor of our house and our three cars, my family and I remained calm-- oblivious to the extent of damage that Ondoy has inflicted on the entire metro. We didn’t have electricity; no batteries for the radio; no cellphone signal. In short, no communication to the outside world. We didn’t know people were looking for us (thanks for the concern, guys!). We didn’t realize that other areas are experiencing even higher flood levels. We were too overwhelmed to think about the rest of the world and we had nothing to remind us that we were not the only ones in the same situation. We only had our neighbors to talk to from our terrace and they were just as oblivious as we were.

It was only when the waters receded and the muddy destruction became evident that we realized that a lot of people must have suffered the same fate. My dad walked to the nearest establishment to buy food, batteries and other provisions. When he came back, he told us of what he heard while holding back his tears. At that point, we were no longer isolated victims. We were citizens of the world again.

I’m actually thankful for that short time that we didn’t have any means of communication. It allowed us to remain calm when we needed to be calm. However, I’m more grateful now that, through media and the internet, I already know what happened and what’s happening around me, and, more importantly, how I can help.

WiFi on airplanes

Would you be willing to pay for WiFi access to last the duration of a flight? That's anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. Some planes have been fitted with the infrastructure to provide passengers wifi internet access during the flight. It wasn't cheap. So don't expect cheap internet access. If you're just going home to say, Davao, which is less than two hours from Manila by plane, will you really spend for internet, when internet is cheap in Davao. The internet shops in the shopping center charge about 20 per hour. In Davao, you can get 10 or even cheaper.

But if you've got really important business or a life-or-death obsession with facebook or twitter or other social networking site, then i'd bet you would pay for such service. Who really has such life-or-death obsession? I can't relate, so I bet no one or very few would pay such high prices keep updating their facebook status every couple of minutes. But this airplane wifi could be good for those whose business transactions can't be interrupted by plane rides or sleep. But the thing is, there are also just a few of them. More correctly, they comprise of only a small percentage of passengers. But I could be wrong. Maybe this airplane wifi has a future. After all, if you could charge it to your client, why stop working just because you're 30,000 feet from the ground.

saving trees

The internet is such a wonderful thing. Lately, i have been hunting for jobs that pay well and that i could do while in law school. The only place i have been looking is the internet. Some employers even prefer that applications be sent via email. The convenience is not just on the job seekers' side, but also on the employers'. It's also cheaper to do it this way.

Some years back, before learning about jobstreet, jobsdb and other job search sites, i printed a dozen or so of my resumes before even going to potential employers. I had to have a decent photo taken and replicated. I had to buy the Sunday edition of Manila Bulletin for a couple of weeks. It wasn't quite as expensive for me then. Then, fresh out of undergrad, i was (shamelessly) being supported by my parents. Funny how becoming one has made such expenses quite expensive.

So now, all i have to have is a softcopy of my resume with photo and hit send 20 or 30 times or more. I can even narrow the scope of my search. And all applications i can do at home. All i have to do is wait and hope that someone on the other side likes my photo or my resume.