Sen. Ralph Recto has called on Malaca?ang to expedite the signing into law of a recently approved bill creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), saying the country needs “Special Action Forces” in cyberspace to protect its banking system from hackers.
“The threat of cyber-attack on our banking system is real. The hack-attack on Bangladesh Bank brings the threat closer to home, stressing the need for us to put up counter-measures against cyber-criminals the soonest time possible,” Recto said.
The senator was referring to reports that hackers stole $80 million from the Bangladesh Bank, using stolen credentials to make online transfers. The hackers reportedly requested the Federal Reserve Bank in New York to transfer the money to organizations in the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
“Wala nang ibang pagkakataon. Ngayon na ang tamang panahon para pirmahan ng Palasyo ang batas na magtatayo ng hiwalay na Department of Information and Communications Technology,” said Recto, who is the principal sponsor of the bill creating the DICT.
Both houses of Congress passed their own version of the DICT bill last year, with minor differences. To avoid convening a bicameral conference, the Senate, before it adjourned for the campaign season last month, conveyed to the House its decision to accept the House version.
Recto said that to attract Malaca?ang support, the DICT bill Congress had approved provides for a lean bureaucracy with a small but smart workforce.
“In fact, there will be savings in the merger of the offices. Para makatipid, we limited the number of undersecretaries, to cite an example, and the creation of regional offices was not made mandatory. This will not burn a huge hole in the taxpayer’s pocket,” Recto said.
Despite its “small budget footprint”, the proposed DICT will be a “powerful main server” which would spur information and communications technology (ICT) development, institutionalize e-government, and manage the country’s ICT environment, Recto said.
Recto said what makes the activation of a DICT urgent is the need to firewall the country from cyberattacks.
“Countries we are not so friendly with may target us and criminals will always want to hack their way to our financial system,” Recto said.
Under the proposed DICT, the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center will be attached to the department, the senator explained.
The DICT will formulate the National Cybersecurity Plan and form the National Computer Emergency Response Team, “our IT Special Action Forces,” as stated in Section 15 of the Senate and House approved bill:
“All powers and functions related to cybersecurity including but not limited to the formulation of the National Cybersecurity Plan, establishment of the National Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), and the facilitation of international cooperation on intelligence regarding cybersecurity matters are transferred to the Department.”
“We live in an era when terrorists don’t have to blast bank doors to do mayhem; but simply unleash a virus that could shred or suck out financial data. An enemy with a missile is as dangerous as one with malware,” he said.
Recto said broadband has become the third utility, after power and water, “therefore we need an agency that will address ICT infrastructure, ICT affordability, ICT usage — three areas we score low.”
Despite having one of the slowest Internet speed in the world, the Philippines hosts one of the largest number of mobile and Internet users in the world.
“ICT is also the third biggest source of dollars after electronics and OFW remittances. It is a growth driver. Every 10 percentage points increase in broadband penetration is said to boost the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 1 percent,” he said.
Income from outsourcing — the BPOs, the call centers, the back offices, medical transcription, game development, creative process outsourcing, to name a few — is projected to reach $25 billion or 8 percent of GDP this year.
Among the powers and functions of the DICT is the “identification and prioritization of all e-government systems and applications.”
On the education front, Recto said the DICT will formulate policies and initiatives to develop and promote ICT in education.
On the public sector side, Recto said a government which spends P3 trillion a year “needs a DICT to get more bang out of the buck, and prevent bribe from being squeezed out of the peso.”
“We are now living in the electronic republic, where views of the sovereign are advocated online, and services must be rendered to them on the same platform. Permits, licenses, land titles should now be electronically-applied for, processed and issued,” Recto said.
“The DICT is also mandated to beef up consumer protection policies to protect consumers against lousy service, and at the same time ensure business users’ right to privacy,” he added.
The DICT, Recto said, would also be tasked to encourage the growth of the ICT industry, by promoting investment opportunities for ICT firms, as well as by creating local and international partnerships to speed up industry growth and competitiveness.
The DICT would be created by merging existing ICT-related agencies under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).