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Watchdog fears pirated technology in 2013 automated elections

A pirated technology for Philippine elections.   Election watchdog Automated Elections System Watch (AES) raised this possibility as it expressed fears that poll machine supplier Smartmatic-Total Information Management would resort to “pirated” technology following its legal fight with Dominion Voting Systems, the software owner for the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines. “The big question is not if the Commission on Elections pushes through with the PCOS system despite the termination of the licensing agreement. In light of the legal complaint, Smartmatic would be using a system that can be described as pirated,” AES co-convenor Bobby Tuazon told GMA News Online in a phone interview.   Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores refused to grant GMA News Online an interview, but sent a statement saying they would continue with the automation despite the business rift with Dominion. “Smartmatic is fully capable of providing all support to Comelec and all customers, regardless of any rifts with any of its providers,” the statement said. Smartmatic has an ongoing legal battle with Dominion after the latter cancelled a 2009 license agreement with it last May. The agreement enabled Smartmatic to be Dominion’s legitimate representative in the country. According to AES, “the termination denies Smartmatic access to technical support and assistance;” thus, Smartmatic might not get Dominion’s proprietary source code and other “escrowed materials” that the Comelec could use to enhance the PCOS system.   Dominion owns the technology used by Smartmatic. “[Smartmatic] had already been denied to use the system. If Comelec still decides to use the system then the Philippine elections will be using a pirated computer technology,” Tuazon said. All systems go Smartmatic said it will enhance the PCOS machines — the same technology used in the 2010 elections — in time for the 2013 polls.   “For the Philippines, we draw on our extensive experience, and we will incorporate the modifications and enhancements to the election system purchased by COMELEC that were requested and completed in 2011,” it said in the statement. The company went on to say that “it’s all systems go for the 2013 automated elections.” “As in 2010, Filipinos can depend on the PCOS machine for transparent elections next year and in the years to come. Business as usual,” Smartmatic said. Even Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. is confident that automation will push through next year. “Whatever happens, we’re going automations in 2013… We’re very confident that the issue of Smartmatic and Dominion would be settled,” he said. Brillantes had earlier said that only minor enhancements on the PCOS machines would be affected by the business rift, but he refused to elaborate. Asked about the possibility of having pirated technology, Brillantes only smirked and said: “Bayaan niyo na silang gumawa ng ingay.” “Hindi kami nag-aalala. May ginagawa naman kami. Hindi muna naming sasabihin sa inyo,” he said. No contingency measures But Tuazon was not assured, saying Comelec doesn’t seem to have contingency measures in case Smartmatic fails to improve the glitches of their PCOS machines.  “[The elections] is six months away. And we’re hoping that Comelec already adopt remedial or contingency measures. Kasi ‘yung kaso makes the 2013 elections in limbo,” said Tuazon, who was also the director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance. Instead of settling with Smartmatic as supplier, Comelec should review the purchasing agreement with Smartmatic to find alternative options, Tuazon said. “It looks like Smartmatic can no longer comply with the provisions of the purchase agreement – the modifications and enhancements that needed to be made,” he said. Comelec has earlier said it will not pay for the 82,000 PCOS machines, worth P1.8 billion, if Smartmatic fails to make the enhancements. What Comelec could do, Tuazon said, is design an alternative voting system in the country to replace Smartmatic.   “We have a very competent IT community who can help. The question is, is there still time? According to our IT consultants, there is still time,” he said. Transparency issue? More than being an issue of credible and accurate elections, the Smartmatic business fight could also reflect Comelec’s transparency. For elections reform advocate Atty. Luie Guia, the Comelec should strive for transparency in the Smartmatic legal dispute to avoid speculations about the 2013 midterm polls. “Sometimes, Comelec brush aside all these issues being raised especially sa issue ng Dominion at Smartmatic. I think it’s important for Comelec to improve the transparency of the process to show that they’re asking Smartmatic what this is and how it can affect the process,” said Guia, the executive director of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), in a separate phone interview with GMA News Online. “Tapos sila (Comelec) na mismo ang magpapaliwang sa publiko in detail kung ano ba ang implications nito,” the lawyer added. Guia said groups tend to speculate on the impact of the business fight of Smartmatic precisely because of the lack of information issued by Comelec on the issue. “What we can do right now is to speculate. Precisely because there’s no explanation coming from those who are privy to the case,” Guia said. “Kung legal ito, ano ba ‘yung legal? It’s a matter of public concern that the public would know kung ano ‘yung issue ng Dominion at Smartmatic. That’s transparency,” the lawyer added. Comelec could thus share the responsibility of handling the elections with the public if they are transparent in their operations, Guia said. “When you are transparent, binibigyan mo ng datos at information ang publiko, you spread the responsibility of running the elections. Alam ng publiko na ganito ang nangyayare, ganito ang kakulangan. You give the public a responsibility to do their share,” Guia said. Brillantes previously said the fight between Smartmatic and Dominion are “legal issues” and should not affect the technical aspect of the elections, adding that Dominion should still enforce Smartmatic ‘s contract with Comelec in the past “at the time Smartmatic was still their legitimate agent.” “We don’t care if there was a cancellation. Dominion cannot get out of their commitments signed before May just by canceling (Smartmatic’s) license. Kailangan sundan pa rin ng Dominion ‘yun legally,” Brillantes had said. Smartmatic has earlier claimed that the 82,000 PCOS machines purchased by Comelec for P1.8 billion could last even until the 2016 elections. "These machines are for a particular purpose. They are still good even for the next elections. They are not like laptops that are very powerful, but are prone to wear-and-tear,” Smartmatic product development specialist Marlon Garcia had said in a hearing with the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms late July. The Comelec has said some 50,000 PCOS units passed the technical tests, 1,000 were rejected, and about 30,000 were set aside for having "dirty” adaptors. — KBK/HS, GMA News