Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Philippine poll machines up for public scrutiny

Florante S. Solmerin
Manila Standard

The Filipino public, including computer hackers, will get a chance to test if the voting machines for use in the 2010 elections are foolproof, according to the Commission on Elections.

The “source code” of software that will run the voting machines will be put up for public review before election day, said Jose Tolentino, manager of the poll automation project.

That’s required under the poll automation law, Tolentino said.

“After the technical evaluation committee has certified that the system works and it’s accurate, then the source code would be open to the public for review and then that source code will be deposited in escrow with the Central Bank of the Philippines,” Tolentino said at the press briefing held at the Comelec main office in Manila.

Tolentino was reacting to observations by former election chief Christian Monsod that the “source code” could still be manipulated.

“In other words, we’re not keeping the source code. Source code is the human readable instructions, so puwedeng tingnan ’yan line by line just to make sure that there is no malicious program inside that system and they would be available for the public for review. So we’re very transparent just to show to the public that we’re not hiding anything,” Tolentino said.

Tolentino also downplayed fears that the software is prone to hacking.

“We’ve always said that by the time a hacker is able to get into our system, the elections have been over and votes tallied. Our system has several layers of security. In fact, in those several layers of security we can immediately detect if there is an attempt to hack the system and we can immediately provide remedial measures,” he explained.

Any hacker, to make a mess of the software, will need a huge capacity computer to be able to gather all the data stored in the software.

Tolentino, meanwhile, said that three days before election day, they will let open for public to view the machines and even to political parties and candidates to allow them to fill up test ballots.

“From those ballots we’ll have a manual tally. After the manual tally, we’ll have to feed the ballots into the machine then we we’ll evaluate.”

The parties and candidates will sign those documents to show and certify that the machine is OK for use on election.

“We’ll close and seal the machine. The next time that the machine will be opened would be on election day. But it will be opened only in the presence of watchers and political parties, candidates and their representatives,” Tolentino said.

Even before they start the counting or the voting, the Bureau of Election Inspector will print out a zero report to show that there is no data previously stored in the counting machine, Tolentino said.

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