Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Entry of 5,000 cell phone jammers worries Comelec

The Commission on Elections on Monday said it has been taking steps to protect the system of the May automated elections after receiving reports that 5,000 units of cell phone jammers entered the country recently. Comelec spokesman James Jimenez indicated that the poll body saw the entry of the cell phone jammers as a threat to the orderly, fraud-free conduct of the automated national and local elections, the first ever in the country. He said the poll body has been on "active form of defense" after verifying the reports of the bulk arrival of the jammers. "That the units came in a big bulk, although the purpose remains unclear and given the proximity of the election, we cannot help but be suspicious. And it’s only prudent that the Comelec be suspicious," Jimenez said. The Comelec already had information who imported the jammers but opted not to give details to the public yet. Comelec ready for transmission signal jammers The Commission on Elections (Comelec) expressed worry on reports stating over 5,000 cellphone signal jammers were shipped to the country last month but said that the automated poll system is robust enough to withstand such jammers. Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said Monday that the poll agency is suspicious about the transmission signals jammers shipped in bulk to the country before the May elections, which might be used to delay the real-time transmission of voting results at close of polls from precincts to canvassing centers and Comelec servers. “We've been trying to verify the accuracy of the reports of cellphone signal jammers supposedly entering the country. We have no details as of this time but there is coordination with the (Bureau of) Customs already. By itself, nothing is illegal about the shipment. But given the proximity of the elections and the numbers involved in the shipment, it is but prudent for us to worry,” said Jimenez. “This could be a plot to delay the real-time electronic transmission of the voting results for automated canvassing,” said Jimenez. Delaying the physical transmission of the voting results from polling precincts to canvassing centers have paved the way for vote padding and shaving or “dagdag-bawas,” and other cheating mechanisms in the manual polls, he said. Some parties who will not benefit from automation could see that delaying the electronic transmission of results as a way to introduce cheating in the new system, Jimenez said. Signal jammers or devices that prevent cellular phones from transmitting data is not new in the country and that the poll agency have contingency measures such as the use of mobile satellites using broadband global area network technologies for the possible loss of cellular transmission signals provided by public telcos. “During the preparation of the automation contract details, Comelec noted one of the major things that can go wrong is the loss of signal whether due to the inadequacy of the service provider or caused by a malicious agency. This is where we put into use our contingency measures such as the use of mobile satellites and the physical transfer of the poll machines with the industry-grade memory devices that contain the voting data to a place with signal or directly to the canvassing center,” said Jimenez. Jimenez added jammers are not superior devices because there are devices that can block this jammers and Comelec has the means to use the counter devices if needed. The automation deal that Comelec signed with Smartmatic-Total Information Management covers not only the provision of machines but the security of the overall system as well since Comelec is also mandated to protect the orderly conduct of the electoral process, said Jimenez. In a separate statement, Customs Commissioner Napoleon said he instructed a team to investigate the reports of thousands of jammers entering the country. “I have instructed the Customs Intelligence operatives to look into these reports. We will also be coordinating with the National Telecommunications Commission for importations of such equipment,” Morales said. The electronic transmission stage in automation is crucial because it will be the determining factor in holding automated polls, since it eliminates the need for board of election inspectors to physically transport the counted ballots from the voting centers to the board of canvassers for tallying in the municipal, provincial and national levels, said Jimenez. Under the new system, results for the national positions are expected to be out in 48 hours, instead of the usual one or two months, he said.

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