Time to Become More Protective of Personal Information

The government is not the only one that should be held responsible for these "data leaks." 

Whenever we apply for key government documents such as police and NBI clearance, birth certificate, driver's license and vehicle license, and passports, we provide the agencies with our supposedly private personal information. Among them include our full name, home address and occupation. They also take from us our photos and signatures, which they store in an electronic database to be attached on the documents being requested.

However, recent developments involving a recently revealed alleged "data leak" case at the Department of Foreign Affairs, dating back to 2015 when the contract of the original private subcontractor for passport printing, French firm Oberthur, was not renewed after the function was unilaterally shifted from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to the APO Production Unit, Inc., a government-owned and -controlled corporation under the Presidential Communications Operations Office, which, due to apparent lack of capacity, subcontracted another private firm, UGEC, to do the work, should be a major cause of concern for all of us. That was not the last time that there was an "data breach" involving a Philippine government agency. Prior to the start of national and local elections in May 2016, there was an alleged "data leak" at the Commission on Elections, with private information of millions of Filipino voters stored at the commission's database being "hacked."

It seems that the government is too lax and even too reckless when it comes to handling personal information coming citizens. There may be safeguards being offered by law, through the Data Privacy Act, and the National Privacy Commission, but, so far, no course of action has been taken to deal with recent government "data leaks," especially the one involving the Commission on Elections, as no case has been filed yet against those responsible for what is now notoriously known as "Comeleak."

The government is not the only one that should be held responsible for these "data leaks." Most Filipinos seem to be not that conscious when it comes to providing and protecting personal information. Some recklessly share supposedly confidential data on social media or even to other people, only to complain of "invasion of privacy" later when things go out of hand.

In other countries, especially the West, private information of citizens are well protected that they are considered as a vital component of national security. Proof of this was the allegation that social media giant Facebook was "selling" information of millions of its subscribers to a bunch of clients, ranging from market research firms to working for or on behalf of governments and political figures. The incident prompted the United States, Singapore and other countries to conduct inquiries and come up with ways to ensure that the personal information of citizens will be protected.

With an effort to introduce a National ID system and the Ease of Doing Business Act mandating agencies to speed up the processing of transactions with citizens or businesses, it is time for the government to finally make a tangible display of capacity and seriousness when it comes to protecting personal information of Filipinos, in particular prosecuting those responsible for "Comeleaks" in 2016 and revealing the truth behind the recent "data leak" involving the Department of Foreign Affairs and taking the appropriate courses of action to resolve the problem, and exploring options on how to make government database better protected such as looking at blockchain technology. At the same time, it should mount an all-out, multi-media campaign to make Filipinos understand the importance of protecting personal information and why only the necessary data should be provided to government or be placed on personal social media accounts. As we go deeper into the 21st century, a time when higher premium on information technology and data privacy protection is being placed, the Philippine government and the Filipino people should now become more data and privacy protection conscious.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TheLOBBYiST.
About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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