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Espionage issue raised vs. third telco during lawyers' online forum

“There is no cybersecurity measure that is 100 percent fool-proof,” a lawyers’ advocacy group called Tagapagtanggol ng Watawat (TNW) said in a recent webinar hosted by the Philippine Bar Association (PBA).

The lawyers’ group has exhorted its peers to exercise all precautions against intrusions into the country's internet connectivity by scrutinising the safeguards reportedly installed in the already concluded agreement for Dito Telecommunity to build cellular towers inside the military camps.

Dito, the country's third telco, which is 40 percent owned and controlled by the state-owned China Telecom, was recently granted a franchise by Congress.

The TNW advocates were reacting to the statement of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has made assurances with regard to safeguards against any security breaches, such as radio frequency eavesdropping, interception, jamming and data farming.

“The government must also explain in more detail why we are departing from the trend set by various technology giants and developed countries like Australia, US and Japan on freezing out Chinese technologies because of espionage concerns,” said lawyer Marlon Anthony Tonson, TNW founding member, in reference to the government’s consent to Dito’s partnership with China Telecom.

Tonson cited US-Israeli cybersecurity firm Cybereason's report, which disclosed “well-documented attempts to hack into the systems of more than a dozen global telco firms in about 30 countries and harvest large amounts of personal and corporate data.”

“We have to acknowledge the apparent vulnerabilities of our digital system as the pandemic forces us to hastily shift to online modes of commerce and work,” stressed Tonson.

The passage of House Bill 78, which would allow foreign entities like China Telecom to acquire 100-percent ownership on telco businesses in the country, was the main focus during the webinar.

The attendees, which included former Supreme Court chief justice Antonio Carpio, Tonson, and other top legal luminaries in the country, agreed that the approved House bill is unconstitutional.

Tonson took a swipe at HB 78, saying that “the Constitution cannot be changed by mere act of Congress.”

He explained: “Telco is a public utility, thus, the 60-40 ownership for Filipinos as enshrined in our Constitution is appropriate and could not be changed by any enactment of the legislature.”

Tonson added that HB 78, which has yet to see a counterpart measure in the Senate, is clearly intended to avert the Constitution’s foreign ownership rules for public utilities, "the effect of which is that Dito’s efforts can serve as template for the further opening of the telco industry to foreigners, including those adversarial to our diplomatic and national security interest.”

Topics: cybersecurity , Tagapagtanggol ng Watawat , Dito Telecommunity , Antonio Carpio , Delfin Lorenzana , Armed Forces of the Philippines , Philippine Bar Association
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