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Ex-DICT USec. Rio says he was ‘eased out’ after voicing concerns on contact tracing app


Former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, Jr. said he was "eased out" of his position after raising concerns over the Philippines' official contact tracing application StaySafe.ph.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Rio questioned the selection of StaySafe as the sole contact tracing application, which he said would only work in 3G capable phones, and would not cover 2G devices.

Rio also said that application at its current state does not have the capacity to conduct digital contact tracing to determine the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 in the country.

"It is a Health Monitoring app with a location tracker, but up to now has no contact tracing capability as described above," said Rio.

"It just 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," he added.

Despite this, StaySafe.ph was adopted as the sole contact tracing application of the government as selected by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID).

"[E]ven with [these] limitations of StaySafe, including concerns in privacy issues, IATF seem no longer interested in considering other contact tracing app," said Rio.

In his post, Rio noted that he was recommended by National Task Force Implementor Carlito Galvez, Jr. to lead an Information System Task Group which would assess the compatibility and scalability of the application with the government's aims.

"However, not only was this proposal of Secretary Galvez disregarded by IATF, I was eased out from the government at this crucial time with the president accepting my four-month-old resignation, to be replaced by someone not involved in COVID-19. Why this unreasoned interest in StaySafe.ph?" questioned Rio.

Rio's latest post comes weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte accepted his resignation as DICT Undersecretary.

Rio filed his resignation in February after butting heads with DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II over the P300 million in confidential funds for the department tasked mainly to develop the national ICT development agenda.

Duterte did not accept the resignation in March, and Rio and Honasan were said to have reconciled their differences.

StaySafe.ph was developed by Multisys Technologies Corporation, led by chief executive officer David Almirol, Jr.

"Users will not only be safer with StaySafe.ph’s social distancing system, it will also equip our authorities with such functional analytics like the contact tracing and heatmap that will enable them to allocate, channel and deploy necessary resources to the right communities," Almirol said in an earlier statement.

Multisys claimed that the StaySafe.ph has been upgraded to hold up to 200 million users, and is currently being migrated to the DICT as part of the adoption of its pandemic mitigation system. — BM, GMA News

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