DOH Rejects StaySafe Contact Tracing App -- Contact Tracing Czar

More than a year into the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines has yet to establish a working nationwide contact tracing system. Local government units (LGUs), government agencies, and even private enterprises began developing their own contact tracing apps and systems as early as March 2020. Some of these contact tracing apps/systems are working, while some are just for show (in an attempt to convince the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in opening a particular industry while the places in the country are in a particular community quarantine).

Photo by John Camera on Unsplash

Last month, a Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) was signed by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Health (DOH), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the Safety Seal Certification Program. The certification program aims to increase public confidence in businesses as consumers are urged to patronize shops with a “safety seal” as issued by different government agencies under the JMC. One of the requirements for any business to be issued with a “safety seal” is for them to use the StaySafe system.

Just this week, no less than the country’s Contact Tracing Czar, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong admitting that the weakest link in the Philippines’ fight against COVID-19 is still contact tracing. He was even quoted saying that the country’s official contact tracing app, StaySafe has been rejected by the Department of Health (DOH).

I asked Multisys Technologies Corporation, the developer of the StaySafe contact tracing platform for comments on the statement made by the Contact Tracing Czar, and this is what they sent this to me via email:

“It was not rejected by DOH, it was MultiSys who decided to donate to DILG since DILG was assigned to do the contact tracing efforts thru LGUs. We're able to provide all source codes and database to DILG already. However, Multisys still need to conduct workshops, provide several product documentation and do technology transfer to DILG for them to understand all of the functionalities of StaySafe. In the next 2 weeks, we aim to be able to perform those thru workshops and make sure that DILG can fully operate StaySafe thru technology transfer and systen seminars.”

The app developers added that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) also committed to providing technical assistance to the DILG, and calls for unity between the private sector and government so that we can win this war against the dreaded disease.

It may be recalled that the selection of StaySafe as the official contact tracing app mandated by the IATF last year was marked with opposition from technology and privacy advocates, some even tagging the platform as borderline spyware.

“There were a number of apps being offered, but out of the blue, StaySafe was politically chosen. I know then that it can’t handle contact tracing because (1) it is more of a surveillance app, and (2) it lacks the certification of DICT that it is ‘feasible and secure’,” according to former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, Jr. on his social media post last 14 April 2021.

StaySafe is Open Source?

Part of the email sent to me by Multisys stated:

“StaySafe is opensource, but of course we need to spend little time with DILG tech team to train them using both back-end and front-end system of StaySafe. Rest assured that MultiSys is willing to continue to help the government even after our donation to DILG.”

So, if the contact tracing platform is open source, what license/s is it using? This is the only response I got from them:

“We used multiple open source dev tools to build StaySafe website, iOS and Android. All given to DILG.”

I even continued asking if StaySafe’s source code will be available for the general public to scrutinize (as an open source app)?

“We can make it public if the government will allow it. This is good for public appreciation on the StaySafe tech-contents. But that's the decision already of the government since it was already donated,” Multisys replied.

What is your take on StaySafe for contact tracing? Will you use it?