Loss of data is latest DFA headache

MANILA – Was it a serious breach of security or much ado about nothing? Philippine passport applicants and holders – dual citizens included — want to know.

A private contractor that used to print passports for the Philippine government may soon be the subject of a Senate inquiry. This, after Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the foreign company had failed to turn over data of passport applicants after its contract expired.

The contract expired during the term of former Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay.

While Yasay has said that there was no serious problem involving the alleged loss of data, Locsin saying, “Passports pose national security issues and cannot be kept back by private entities. Data belongs to the state.”

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) said this week that it would investigate the matter.

“Any form of non-availability of personal data, infringement of the rights of data subjects, and harms from processing that include inconveniencing the public, must be adequately explained to the satisfaction of the law,” the NPC said in a statement on Wednesday, Jan. 16.

Two senators, Risa Hontiveros and Nancy Binay, said French printing company Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciare should be made to explain its alleged absconding with the data.

Hontiveros said there were “deep repercussions on national security” as a result of the loss.

She filed Senate Resolution No. 981, which seeks a Senate inquiry on allegations first surfaced by Locsin that a private contractor involved with making passports had failed to turn over the personal data of passport applicants.

Hontiveros said the reported breach may constitute violations under the Data Privacy Act of 2012, which requires institutions controlling personal information of individuals to implement measures which will protect such information “against any accidental or unlawful destruction, alteration and disclosure, as well as against any other unlawful processing.”

For her part, Binay called on the Office of the Solicitor General to review the contracts of government’s data management providers as well as government agencies with third-party software and data management providers particularly those that concern any national database system.

The case of the missing data is the latest problem of the DFA under the Duterte administration.

In less than three years, the DFA has had three secretaries. After Yasay failed to pass the Commission on Appointments, President Duterte’s running mate Alan Peter Cayetano was tapped to head the department. The former senator resigned last year in order to run for a seat in the House of Representatives, after which Locsin took the helm of the DFA.

The biggest problem to hound the DFA has been the incursions of China in Philippine waters, but the reported loss of data to a foreign company is also a serious matter.

In a related development, Locsin signed this week an order removing the submission of birth certificates as a requirement for passport renewals.

Under the order, the presentation of birth certificates shall no longer be required for regular renewals, except for applications for lost and mutilated passports; those requiring changes in the passport entries; old brown and green passports bearing no complete middle names; and applicants included in the Department’s Watchlist.

However, DFA Consular Offices across the country and Philippine Embassies and Consulates General abroad may still require additional documentation to ascertain Filipino citizenship and for minors, proof of identity and family relations.