‘eSalvar’ maker washes hands on data breach

NAGA CITY --- Nueca Technologies, Inc., the developer of “eSalvar” contact tracing application, has washed its hands of any responsibility on possible data breach regarding the use of the internet-based mobile application.

Nueca, is a homegrown software and internet company in Naga City. Founded in January 2018, it builds, operates and maintains eCommerce platforms such as Hungrily, Tindahang Tapat and Community Mart. The company is also the developer of “eSalvar,” a contact tracing application, which was adopted and implemented by the Naga City government through a city ordinance.

On Oct. 5, eight private individuals filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Naga City a special civil case seeking to declare as unconstitutional the “eSalvar” ordinance for violation of the due process and equal protection clauses, including the rights to liberty, privacy, freedom of movement as guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution.

The special civil case for certiorari and prohibition under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court with prayer for temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or preliminary injunction over the implementation of the “eSalvar” ordinance, was filed by petitioners: lawyers Agapito B. Rosales and Alex A. Arejola; Edgardo M. Castro, a retired government employee; Edizza Lynn D. Quides, Dianne M. Durante, Roy Angelo R. Belleza, Francis Patray P. Bolaños, and Paulo Gabriel D. Jamer, all law students.

They are represented by their counsel, Atty. Luis Ruben M. General of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Bikol Chapter.

Cited as respondent in the case was the local government unit (LGU) of Naga City represented by Mayor Nelson S. Legacion and Vice-Mayor Cecilia B. Veluz-De Asis.

The petitioners sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the Naga City government from implementing the ordinance, which was initially scheduled on Oct. 18. However, even before the case was finally heard in court, the “eSalvar” implementation was moved to Nov. 1 by Mayor Nelson Legacion due to the request of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Two RTC judges, Laurencio Puto of Branch 62 and Cresencio Cortes, Jr., of Branch 19, inhibited from the case on Oct. 9 and 14, respectively. Puto cited as reason for inhibiting himself from the case that he already registered with ‘eSalvar’, while Cortes gave personal reason that may affect his judgment of the case.

The case was finally heard on Oct. 21 by Judge Pablo Cabillan Formaran III of RTC Branch 21 after the case landed on his sala after it was raffled for the third time on Oct. 19.

In an order issued after the Oct. 21 hearing, Formaran said “the parties agreed to do away with the application for TRO and preliminary injunction given the undertaking of Mayor Legacion himself that he would make a clarification that the implementation of the mandatory requirement of “No QR Code, No Entry” under the ordinance will take effect only after the lapse of the 30-day window period to comply with the registration requirements by the covered business establishments and government offices and that is, on December 1, 2020.”

During the second hearing of the case on Friday, Oct. 23, which focused on the technical aspects of the “eSalvar” application, Atty. Luis Ruben General, counsel of petitioners, asked Nueca’s technical representative about the company’s contingency plan in case of possible data breach on personal information collected by the application.

In response, Magno Conag, Nueca’s information technology expert, said that Nueca is no longer in control or has no more access to the application because the same was already turned over to the city government.

Conag added that the “eSalvar” app has security features to prevent data breach and any unscrupulous attempts to access the personal information provided by the registrants.

General also questioned Conag if the latter considers consent as vital to the registration in “eSalvar.”

Conag, who is a witness for the respondent, the Naga City government, answered that every person can access the “eSalvar” registration.

In an interview after the hearing, General told Bicol Mail that minors are not allowed to waive their consent on personal information required by “eSalvar” because they are minors.

Meanwhile, Executive Judge Nonna O. Beltran of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) in Naga City, in a letter to the president of the Camarines Sur Chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said the MTCC will not implement the ‘eSalvar’ ordinance in its premises.

Beltran’s statement was in response to the letter of Prosecutor Virgilio Balane, Jr., to the IBP, which in turn wrote a letter to MTCC inquiring whether the city courts would implement the ‘eSalvar’ as it would affect the appearance of witnesses and persons deprived of liberty during court hearings.

Another lawyer, Norman P. Barrosa wrote a letter the executive judges of RTC and MTCC in Naga City regarding the same concern.

During the latest hearing of the ‘eSalvar’ case on Tuesday, Oct. 27, Laurence Nogra, an IT expert working with the city government testified that only the City Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (CESU) personnel have access to personal information of “eSalvar” registrants who are possible Covid-19 patients’ close contacts.

He told the court that if an authorized person is unavailable, another personnel will be called to access and examine personal data of persons suspected as Covid-19 close contacts.

Nogra also testified that all the personal information collected by the “eSalvar” application will be destroyed or erased once the pandemic is over.

Another technical person who testified for the respondent, Ruel Oliver, Naga’s Information Technology Office chief, said that his office would address the issue of gender and sexuality as far as questions on the sex of registrants is concerned by including choices in the registration form in the case of persons belonging to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) group.

.The court hearing on the case will continue on Friday, Oct. 30, Nov. 4 and 5 to give the petitioners to present their witnesses.