Is automated count fool-proof?

Is automated count fool-proof?

Offhand, the P11.3 billion budgetary fund duly legislated for the forthcoming 2010 elections to take off in – automation – ranged against the number of voters who will actually vote on that day to express their voice might tell us just how expensive the whole exercise could cost. In other words, the purchase of some 80,000 computers at P100,000 each for a one-shot use might prove to be not advantageous to the government unless otherwise there is no other better economic option present like renting the whole ‘infrastructure or apparatus’ from a company that can provide it to include allied services. This means getting the entire project sub-contracted to those who can meet the program specifications as well as with reputation that passed the qualification criteria set for the purpose.

Come to think of it, the breakdown for this legislated amount has not been supplied that one senator thinks it is like giving a blank check to the COMELEC under that fund cap for whatever stuff that are yet to be identified and will be purchased. Again, this goes beyond the normal implementation of projects that ought to be accompanied by such requirements as a program of work and all. That likewise does not perhaps close the door for subsequent fund request when found necessary from being approved. Well, then – so be it.

The other day, a subject matter expert in the person of a certain Ike Senerez was interviewed over Dos for Dos by Anthony Taberna and Gerry Baja and any average reader would tend to believe that indeed, the whole government project toward an automated vote count and all its attendant procedures and processes may not be fool-proof as intended. In other words, it can only result in a process of real time quick count of the votes across the country as the ballots have been cast and as they get transmitted from ‘node to node’, as if it were, to reach its central station that officially registers it. Senerez has made a thorough and comprehensive discussion on the possibility that it can be hacked.

The issue is then whether or not, this COMELEC project as prescribed by law – can be the vicious object of hacking. And the subject matter expert believes that it is so to the point he dares challenge that it be put to test with him providing at least very ten very young hackers to do the trick. It is not known however if such proposal has reached the COMELEC chair but it is worth looking into.

The new COMELEC automated count should in fact be put to test before it can be launched. Let it not be said the Senerez proposal will do the COMELEC a disservice but a favor. After all, it is taxpayer’s money being spent in the billions for what might turn out to be a faux pas. Besides, COMELEC ought to allay fears that the new ‘digital counting machine’ may have embedded in it instructions that the naked eye cannot see but only by an optical reader. In short, the possibility that it would have been designed in such a way that what it actually does is a false count is never far removed. If that happens, one can say, this is a sophisticated form of cheating reminiscent of the ‘hello Garci’ audio-tape scandal.

Certainly, should the COMELEC allow a couple more tests, it does not have to limit itself with the offer from Ike Senerez and his ten little angels. Wisely enough, Ike did not make any claim of a being a hacker (in the good or bad sense of the word) but did claim to be a project manager who, among other things, would also know how hacking is being done. In fact, that interview educates listeners on the possibilities of hacking as explained in very understandable language and line of thinking.

For instance, Senerez pointed out that there will be problem on who holds the key in an encryption that has been likened to a lock. Further, he made mention of the possibility of hacking happening while transmission is taking place or while the packets so-called are broken up while in transit such that the data that will reach its intended node will be different from the original data. And hacking can happen anywhere – the hackers being able to operate from within the system and even more so outside of it. Said plainly, the system however automated has actually been approached manually. Maybe, this is what Senator Roxas is saying as the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ in computerization.

The point is, if the experts themselves are telling us that the government project is not immune from such attacks, it stands to reason that such concern be addressed with open-mind and let hacking show whether or not, this project has contained all the necessary security or safeguard against all possible forms of ‘criminal’ activity in cyberspace. The cyberspace is simply replete with a long list of cyber crimes having been committed against thought-to-be well-guarded government cyber stations. And hackers all throughout the web come in different hats – the black hat, the white hat, the gray hat, script kiddie, hactivist, whatever. All told, there is reason to be apprehensive if the system will be hacked by those with various motives and especially so on whether they are pro-GMA or are otherwise anti-GMA.

Where motives are involved, there is even greater reason that all suspicion be allayed so that at the end of the day, everyone can say the election just had were clean, honest, and reflective of the true voice of the people And that therefore, those elected truly enjoy the full moral ascendancy to rule. Likewise, this is probably the time we can say that the voice of the people is in fact, the voice of God. If it is not so, elections – automated or not – would have served no real purpose.

Let us give Senerez the chance to prove himself right if the COMELEC chair may please.

PRIMER C. PAGUNURAN
UP Diliman, Quezon City