Use of DICT funds for surveillance alarms civil society group

The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), a non-government organization, has expressed its “grave concerns” over the alleged misuse of confidential funds by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) for the purpose of conducting surveillance activities.

On Monday, February 3, DICT undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. confirmed his resignation from the agency, citing the lack of transparency in the disbursement of P300 million in confidential funds as one reason for his departure.

His revelation is corroborated by official documents from the Commission on Audit (COA) which have flagged irregularities in the release of cash advances described as “confidential expenses in connection with cybersecurity activities.”

“As a civil society organization committed to the protection of human rights in the Philippines, we find these reports deeply unsettling, especially since unlawful and unfettered government surveillance practices are an anathema to fundamental civil liberties and often result in graver human rights violations,” the FMA said.

The civil society group said the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance dictate that any measure of surveillance from the State should observe the highest level of transparency and legal oversight possible.

“The irregularities committed by the DICT, if proven to be true, directly contravene this standard,” it pointed out.

The allegations of fund misuse for the purpose of surveillance, FMA added, are particularly troubling given the current political landscape, which is already populated with accounts and proposals of unregulated state spying.

On top of the national ID system, there are existing policy proposals to enhance government surveillance capabilities (e.g., Foreign Electronic Surveillance Act, amendments to both the Human Security Act and the anti-wiretapping law, and the anti-subversion law), and the increasing militarization of government agencies, it noted.

“We call on the DICT to remain faithful to their legal mandate to plan, develop, and promote the national ICT development agenda. We also support the initiative of legislators to conduct an investigation into these recently-surfaced allegations. Finally, we urge fellow human rights advocates and stakeholders to also voice out their concerns and to continue keeping watch over the government and this administration, in particular, which appears to thrive in a culture of fear and impunity,” the group said.

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